Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Andalucia, Parte Dos: Cordoba

Ready to be picked
Our plan to spend two nights in each city for the first week of our trip to Spain and Portugal worked out rather well: It gave us an idea of the character of the cities that we visited while allowing us unhurried transfers during which we could add to our sightseeing. Thus driving for 150 or 200 kilometers was not a chore but rather a welcome element of this trip.
Endless olive orchards outside of Granada
We left Granada behind and drove north-west on a fairly empty highway, the N432. The road was winding through sheer endless olive groves, with most of the soil bare between the trees, making Sabine lament the lack of balanced vegetation in lieu of such a mono-culture. We stopped by the wayside and saw that the olives were dark and ready to be picked; I tasted one off the tree and it was extremely tart and inedible. They definitely need to be cured or pressed for oil.
The cathedral at La Mota
Replica of a medieval trebuchet
La Forteleza de la Mota towers over Alcala la Real
About 50 kilometers from Granada we came across La Fortaleza de la Mota, an old fortress just outside of Alcala la Real that goes back all the way to Roman times (and then some). This part of the world was in an almost constant state of upheaval, with the Romans being replaced by the Visigoths who had to make way for the Moorish rulers who then were replaced by the Castilians. We had the entire fortress pretty much to ourselves as there are hardly any tourists at this time of the year—it doesn't get much quieter than this.
Entrance to the family owned Nunez de Prado oil mill
Only the best extra virgen olive oil—less than 2% acidity
The view from La Mota is amazing. One can see the Sierra Nevada toward the southwest, looming over Granada, while all the other hills with their olive trees surround the fortress in ever-receding lines. From up here one can see something like about a dozen watchtowers that the rulers of La Mota had built to get advance warning of advancing enemies. Quite a system.
Large stones are used to grind the olives into paste
The paste is slowly moved through these tubes so that oil starts to leak out
Hydraulic presses remove even more oil
Nothing digital here: All bottles are hand labeled
A few miles down the road, in Baena, we went to a small, family-owned oil mill where one of the two brothers who run the show gave us a bit of a tour and some insight into the operations. The octogenarian reminded both of us of the old butler in the "Ninetieth Birthday," a cult must-see skit that German TV replays umpteen times every New Years. If you have seen it, you can picture Fernando Nunez de Prado.
Califa, our one and only brewpub of the trip (in Cordoba)
Quite a selection, and the beer was good
Reaching our hotel in Cordoba once again involved negotiating extremely tight streets of a city that was not built for modern traffic. But we didn't lose any rear view mirors or added any scratches longer than 5 centimeters, so that was good. Our hotel did not have the same view as the one in Granada, but then, we were quite happy with our baroque-appointed room in the Hospedaje El Churrasco, our home for the next two nights.
From the bell tower of the Mezquita one can see what was originally mosque and how the church was built into its middle
The Mezquita's Christian bell tower, formerly the minaret
Moorish as it comes
Two religions, two epochs, one amazing structure
Just as Granada has the Alhambra so does Cordoba have its own major draw, La Mezquita, the Roman temple turned mosque turned cathedral that is in the center of the old town. But Cordoba has so much more to see: There's the beautiful Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir, the Palace of the Christian Kings (Alcazar), the royal stables, and of course the confusing maze of tiny streets that make navigation a real challenge. Our hotel was right in the Juderia, the old Jewish part of Old Town, and thus we were smack-dab in the middle of it all. The mixture of Moorish and Christian elements in architecture is a constant reminder of the turbulent history of these cities, and it makes for an unending stream of impressions and views.
Brothers in beards and mustaches
Where is PETA? At the royal stables, witnessing training sessions for the evening performance
Amazing maze
Just like in Granada, we climbed many steps to get on top of turrets and towers. The view of a city from up on top adds a completely new component to sightseeing and one gets a much better appreciation of the layout and the floorplans of palaces and gardens as well as the city itself. Now, if we could only get Sabine to understand that just because one stands under a big bell doesn't mean that one has to try to ring it! I thought we were going to get kicked out of town....
Don't ring the bell, Quasimodo!
Since we were staying in hotels (average cost about $75) we went out to eat in restaurants every night, either for a complete meal of simply tapas and drinks. Breakfast was included in all hotels (very nice breakfasts, I should add), and during the day we didn't feel hungry. The only drawback to traveling during this time of the year is that it gets dark so early (around 6 p.m.), but the cities take on a different character at night with all those intimate lights that are so characteristic for a European old town.
Some of the world's greatest gardens, some of the world's worst gardeners
My overall impression of Cordoba: With the Mezquita right in the middle of the old town area Cordoba doesn't have the separation that Granada has with the Alhambra on one ridge and the Albayzin on the opposite hill. The lack of elevation makes for a less scenic city, yet the narrow streets are quite charming. Still, Cordoba appeared to me less medieval than Granada and maybe a bit more North African in its character—I base that on my faint memories of Tunis and similar cities 40 years ago. I can't say that either Cordoba or Granada had the upper hand for me in attractiveness—they're quite different and definitely both worth a trip.
Roman, Moorish, Castilian—Cordoba has it all, like the entire region
 Stay tuned for what awaited us in Sevilla.


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