Medieval Spain, Andalusia y Don Quixote

December 7th, 2018

By now, everyone that celebrates it is heavily into the season’s traditions as they plan to visit family, exchange gifts, spend time with loved ones, or just relax until the throes of the New Year come upon us.

For me, I haven’t seen my kid and her kids for 2 years, as they’ve lived for years in the Western US, and most recently in Hawaii. As fate would have it, they’re currently in the state of North Carolina so, in a few days after this writing posts, I’ll make the lengthy drive up the East coast to visit them for several days.

Although the drive may only span about 12 hours one-way (if I go pretty much straight through) it can be a little bit grueling so I’ll make my way north to Saint Simons Island in Georgia and spend an overnight before finishing the second half of the drive. (I’ll post on beautiful Saint Simons some other day, as it’s a fine place to visit; but I say all that to ssay this : I didn’t want to leave the blog hanging empty while I spent time with family, so I hope you enjoy this installment as we visit the medieval capital of Spain, Toledo, and the cultural gem, Cordoba, to its south)

Day 3 : Toledo 

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Portions of Toledo, pictured above, sit on high providing great vistas of the Castilian Plains and is itself surrounded (except for one side) by the Tagus River, it being the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula at 626 miles long.

Back in the 1500s El Greco used Toledo as the background for much of his work and as you move through the town it is easy to see why.  Featuring cobbled streets, narrow hidden passages, and views like that of the Church of Santo Tome (below) visitors can’t help but be in awe of Toledo’s atmosphere.

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The Church features El Greco’s “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” while another major religious site, Santa Maria la Blanca, is purported as the oldest synagogue in Europe still standing, and the picture below gives an inkling of how spectacular it is.

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After you finish a healthy day of sightseeing and turn to more more earthly pursuits, you’ll have no trouble finding a nearby chocolatería or pastelería offering endless delights of high quality and low price.

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Toledo is not the largest of Spanish cities so once done there we traveled south to Cordoba which is about 3 and a half hours by car (a train taken between the two cities shaves about an hour off)

Day 4 :  Córdoba

We arrived to the Hotel Eurostars Palace in Córdoba at about 6:30 PM and all were surprised at the exterior (rusty) look to this place. While not exactly fitting American tastes, the “modernistic” refurbishment is still very unique, and once entering the Palace, you’ll find this to be a very cool hotel with excellent staff catering to all your lodging needs. Views to the city are also spectacular here, so anyone visiting should ask if a room on higher floors is available in order to get the maximum benefit from the outside walkway adjacent to each room.

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After a good night’s rest, it’s easy to explore Córdoba, the capital of the province of the same name. When walking the city it is easy to spot the vestiges of Romans who once ruled this settlement, as well as later influences of the Visigoths and Muslims.

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Córdoba is a very nice and relatively quiet walkable town where you can find some peace of mind while winding through its beautiful cobbled streets, contemplating its various monuments, gardens, and unique feel.

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Mainstream tourist sites include the 10th century-built Great Mosque (Mezquita), and the beautiful Roman Bridge that spans the Guadalvivir River.  I think one of the great pleasures here is to just start walking, where within minutes you’ll soon find yourself lost within the curves and twists of the back streets. For those afraid of labyrinths, all I can say is, as long as you can see the top of the Mosque, you will always find your way back to civilization and the enticing sights and sounds that envelope the Mezquita. Just be sure to keep an eye out as gypsies do frequent this area and may relieve you of some of your dollars if you’re not wary.

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While gypsies are essentially harmless, once you proffer one dollar, you can be sure that this will be followed with a request for more. You’ll also likely see, as we did, the ‘manteros’ who are often immigrants working to vend merchandise illegally to the many tourists that pass by. These goods are often laid upon a blanket to which ropes or chains of some sort have been fastened in several corners. If police converge upon one of these sellers, the mantero is able to quickly grasp a single handle that is centrally attached to each of the ropes or chains. This snaps the blanket shop immediately shut so that the dealer can run before being apprehended.  A step beyond this kind of crime is the more insidious presence of pickpockets which isn’t so much a Spain-problem as it is a European one. This kind of criminal is far more skilled at their craft in the EU than any American pickpocket ever could be.  In fact, during this trip, we found out that one of the travelers we’d met had taken a Metro in one of the larger cities and hadn’t even realized that a very stealthy pickpocket had made their way into her purse and absconded with her mobile phone. While Spain is beautiful, it still pays to be just a bit vigilant.

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Córdoba offers a nice change of pace to the traveler compared to larger Spanish cities. With a population just a tenth of the size of Madrid, you’ll actually be able to hear yourself think, enjoy the tree lined streets, and perhaps even some fine dining. The meal will likely be cheap, but the taste will be richer than expected.

At more than double the size of Córdoba, Seville is next on our journey and one of my favorites, so until then, Ciao !

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