Puerta Santa Maria to Córdoba
In the morning, we leave Puerta Santa Maria and drive to Córdoba without stopping. We arrive, and start to follow the signs to get to the Hotel Maimonedes, which I know to be right next to the Mezquita. I know if we follow the signs to the Mezquita, we should be able to find it by default.
We drive in circles, searching for the entrance to the old part of town, or failing that, the bridge that listed on my map (which later we discover to be closed!). At one point, we turn down a street which has a sign with the hotel name on it and an arrow. We get to end of the street, only to discover that it's one way and extremely narrow. We have to back up about a block, past the waiting drivers of horse drawn carriages, who stare at us like, "look at those stupid American women!"
We wind our way further and further toward the center of town, down streets crowded with tourists and police directing traffic. We stop, and say to the policeman, "Hotel Maimonedes?" and he motions us past a barricade and up a street past towering ancient walls. We think we're not supposed to be on this road, but up ahead we see the hotel. It has a parking garage below, with a sigh that says "full". I go inside, and the desk clerk tells me to take the car down anyway. We do, and luckily squeeze into a spot, determined not to move the car again until tomorrow morning.
It's only noon, but they have a room for us and allow us to check in (Hotel Maimonedes, 3 stars, Calle Torrijos, 4, www.eurostarshotels.com). I'd requested a room with a view of the Mezquita, and I don't think we could have done any better. Our room, on the third floor, looks right out on to the outer corner of the Mezquita, so we have a view down two of the streets bordering it. It's so close that if my arms were longer I could almost reach out and touch the walls.
The room itself, is perfectly fine, albeit plain, with two twin beds and a decent bathroom. My only complaint would be that the corridors are not carpeted and can get a little loud with slamming doors, heels on tile, and a small child who insists on screaming and running up and down the hall while we try to nap mid-afternoon.
View from our room
"Anything feels good after a glass of Rioja"
We leave the hotel and go in search of the tourist office so we can get a map of town. The hotel has a free one, but it's not very good and because Cordoba is like every other Spanish city (a warren-like maze of streets), we hope to find a better map. After asking at the front desk where to go, we set off in search. We walk, and walk and walk and can't find one of the three offices shown on the map. We stop and ask, and still can't find one.
Frustrated, we decide a snack and a glass of wine is in order and stop in a small plaza in an outdoor café. I order two glasses of vino tinto and we try to decide what to eat. The wine comes and it's the color of purple Welch's grape juice, icy cold, and absolutely undrinkable. I call over the waiter and ask if they have any other selections, anything better. He shrugs and says no so I ask for the check, pay, and we leave.
We keep walking and stop at a cute little restaurant called Taberna Las Faroles (Calle Velásquez Bosco, 1). It has tables in a central courtyard covered in tiles, potted plants and cages filled with singing canaries. We love it immediately. We look at the menu and cautiously order another two glasses of wine. I specifically ask the waiter if the wine is good and he brings the bottle to the table and opens it in front of us. It's wonderful and I instantly relax and say, "anything feels good after a glass of Rioja". My mother laughs.
We order from a menu which allows us to select from different portion sizes; fried anchovies, eggplant which comes batter dipped in egg with a sweet and sour sauce, pork croquetas, and chunks of cochinillo (roasted pork) served on the bone, with potatoes and bits of crispy fried garlic. It's all good and we sit, rested, slightly tipsy, and ready to take on more sightseeing.
After lunch we head to the Mezquita. There is an 8 euro per person entrance fee and it's well worth it. The Mezquita is a huge mosque turned cathedral surrounded by fortified walls. I've never seen anything like it, this blending of Islam and Catholicism. Usually, it seems that when one religion builds a new structure, they just tear down the original and built on top, but this time they incorporated the entire structure of the existing mosque into the church.
We walk through the large courtyard filled with orange trees and enter the darkened church. There are over 800 columns topped by red and white striped Moorish arches. It's absolutely enormous and we walk around, overwhelmed. In the center of the structure is the baroque (I think) church, complete with two massive pipe organs and ornately carved wooden choir chairs.
From the Mezquita we walk into the barrio, looking for the synagogue. This is one of only three surviving original synagogues in Spain. We find it, and it's fairly empty save for some ornate carving on the walls and an interesting women's gallery on the second floor.
What would our day be without ice cream? So, of course, we stop, buy a couple of scoops and sit on the steps of the Mezquita wall across from our hotel. We people-watch for a while, scoping out the tourists, the local woman walking a strange, dreadlocked dog, and the gypsy women, begging, babies in tow.
Finally, we decide to give the tourist office one more try and walk down the street from our hotel, where we're told it's located. We see a massive, ancient door, but no sign indicating that that's where the tourist office would be. At 5 PM the door opens, and there it is. I mention to the girl working inside that it would be nice if there was a sign, and she sighs and agrees. It seems to be a city planning issue.
For dinner we go to El Caballo Rojo (Calle Cardenal Herrero 28), which was highly recommended, and happens to be just steps from the door of our hotel. Earlier in the day, we'd gone inside, checked out the menu and made a reservation for 9 PM. When we arrived, we were promply seated and given 2 glasses of chilled fino sherry (which were on the check, but cheap) and a plate with 4 potato croquetas. The dining room is upstairs from the bar and café area and is elegantly decorated.
I order duck pate with pumpkin and a Pedro Jimenez sherry sauce for us to share as an appetizer. It turns out to be small slices of foie gras, seared black in some places, but very good anyway. I order their famous Oxtail for my main course and my mother orders Wild Boar with sweet herb sauce. Both are plainly presented, but very good. We share a 1/2 bottle Cune Rioja Crianza 2002 and aside of not offering us a wine list, the service is excellent. Dessert was a mixed selection off the dessert cart, and unmemorable. The customers appear to be mostly Spaniards, though I do think this place is popular with tourists as well. Dinner came to 70 euro total.
View from our room at night.