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Córdoba: Processions, Patios and Pails of Snails

We had tickets on our traditional noon bus northwest to Córdoba, but first we had to get out of Granada. On our walk yesterday, we walked west, away from downtown, and away from the tourist area, into a regular neighbourhood. There we found a delightful neighbourhood pastelaria, with great coffee, a bin full of oranges for juice and pan integral (whole wheat bread) for toast. Now all we had to do is find it again.

Technology is a double edged sword. That little black box in my pocket, playfully named Big Black Olaf, is crucial for finding our way around the narrow, twisting streets of medieval European cities. Paper maps just don't cut it; the streets are smaller than the names, making them impossible to label properly. But Big Black Olaf, along with the app, can get me anywhere, and can get me back there again. But only if I pin the destination.

And that's where the trouble began. We had such a delightful time yesterday, but I forgot to pin the location on the map. So this morning, all we knew is that it was "west" and about a kilometre from our apartment. Past that big fountain with the plaza running "south", but before the large park with the running track and old men playing bocce.

But was it before, or after, the university residences with raised gardens full of rosemary and walls full of political graffiti? What about the roundabout with tapas bars we were at last night? Surely it's not that far away!

So we walked, and walked, and squabbled a little. When we tried to piece together our walk from the day before, we came up with two completely different orders. And I'll admit to you, like I admitted to Cindy on the day, that I'm not at my best without my morning coffee. So I caused a scene and we had a spat and then we looked up and there it was, across the street. Argh. I got my coffee and Cindy got her juice and we bought make up toast and four make up sandwiches for the bus ride and then quietly walked back to the room to get our bags and get on the bus for the bus depot.

The ride to Córdoba was smooth and pleasant, helped along by the sandwiches and Spanish Gravol. Outside, the landscape was beautiful. As we came out of the mountains, the miles and miles and miles of olive orchards gave way to gently rolling hills and wheat fields. Wheat fields! It was a sunny day and the wheat was already well along, creating a bright green carpet that popped against the bright blue afternoon sky. Gorgeous. was in a good mood today, and picked a walking route to our guest room that passed through two parks. No major freeways for us! So we had a delightful walk to our room and for the first time, arrived feeling upbeat about our surroundings. (So far, our locations needed a day to grow on us.)

Our guest room for the next three nights was in Manuela's house and it was a real treat. We had a huge, elaborately decorated room and a very large tiled bathroom with double sinks even. There were so many statuettes and icons around the room, so many armoires and dressers and side tables, so many tablecloths and doilies and other fabrics that we put our towel underneath our suitcases lest we get anything dirty. Perhaps the decor was better suited to an older couple, but we had a ton of space and Manuela was very nice. I think our Spanish was improving because our charades went more easily as we learned about all the keys and locks and how the doors work. We could even share pictures of the snowstorm back home and agreed things were better in Córdoba.

Our room was about 1km outside of the main tourist area and that's a very good thing. We kept discovering tiny fruit shops and cafes and gelaterias down side alleys that didn't even have signs out front. You couldn't tell they were there until you walked down the alley, so of course we walked down all the alleys and made sure we found them all. But wow was it tight. I measured our street, and wall to wall, including two 'sidewalks' and the road, was eleven feet wide. When a car came down the road we hugged the wall and hoped for the best.

When we felt claustrophobic, we'd walk two blocks to a small thoroughfare with wider sidewalks and more shops. This was our breakfast street every day. Friendly people, big glasses of orange juice, tiny glasses of strong coffee and tostadas. I discovered the local custom of spreading puréed tomatoes on my toast instead of jam and it was lovely.

Further down this street is the main square. Bars and restaurants ring the outside with City Hall in the middle. Then we turned the corner around City Hall and found Roman pillars! There were the remains of a Roman temple right beside City Hall! Amazing. While not as complete as the temple in Evora, it was still quite spectacular and a big surprise.

Most of the main square was blocked off for Easter processions, so we turned left and headed down to the Mesquita. It's a Mosque/Cathedral that is the centrepiece of tourism in Córdoba, but for now we just walked around it, through the winding alleys of the Jewish quarter and headed to the river.

Córdoba is situated alongside the Guadalquivir River, which makes it a very strategic city, ever since Roman times. The Romans built a beautiful bridge across the river right near where the Mesquita now stands and as it was gorgeous evening, we strolled along the bridge for almost an hour, watching the ducks in the river, looking at the remains of windmills from Roman times, taking photos in the amazing evening light and watching the thousands of fellow tourists doing exactly the same thing. It was the start of Easter Break, so we saw our first busloads of high school and university students on a tour of Spain. It added to the overall energy level in the place, I guess.

While there is still city on the other side of the bridge, there isn't a whole bunch, so I could still see the rolling hills and green wheat fields in the distance, which warmed my heart.

We continued our stroll along the river then headed back to our neighbourhood to find a place for supper. Just like in Granada, we stumbled across a crowd in front of one of the cathedrals, filling the whole plaza / intersection. Easter procession! So we hung out for a while, tried to chat with our neighbours, watched the children having fun and watched the police try to re-route traffic, including a massive tour bus that clearly made a wrong turn at some point. And then, just like Granada, the crowd dispersed before anything happened. Procession's suspended, someone said. Ah well.

This tiny place makes one thing only. Potato Chips!

The next morning, we took care of business. It was laundry day, so I googled the nearest laundromat and we headed away from downtown, 1km across the train tracks. It's another one of those big differences from Regina. At home, walking to a public laundromat, 1km across the tracks, is a scary bit of business. Sea Spray laundry at home isn't a lot of fun and certainly not a place I'd want to hang out. But boy were we ever surprised in Córdoba!

First, we had to cross the tracks. But we couldn't find the tracks! Rather than the ugliness that splits downtown Regina and the Warehouse District, here they built a hill over the tracks, so the trains ran underground from the station to the outskirts of town. And on top of the hill, they built parks! And planted trees, and installed sculptures and fountains! It was gorgeous and something we totally need to do at home. I'm forwarding pictures to my city councillor and I encourage everyone who reads this to do the same.

Promenade over the train tracks. Wonderful!

And I don't want to insult Sea Spray Laundry, but this laundromat was gorgeous. Spotless. Self Service. With automatic soap and softener dispensing so we didn't even need to buy soap. So we loaded up, set a timer on the phone and went for a walk around the neighbourhood. It was so pretty. Just your friendly neighbourhood shopping district, with butcher shops and fruit shops and fish shops and pharmacies and banks and anything else you'd need. Friends meeting on the corner to say hi. Children out for a walk with their grandparents. We wandered around with our mouths open, staring at how awesome it all was.

Our imagined need for private, detached houses with big yards at home means there just aren't enough people to support this level of commerce in a neighbourhood. At least that's what the real estate folks keep telling us. But these blocks of four story buildings with apartments and offices above stores on the ground floor sure look good to me. And everyone seemed happy enough. And Manuela's apartment is huge too. Massive even. Bigger than I need, that's for sure.

And oh yeah, I forgot to mention. Córdoba is full of courtyards and inner patios! One of the reasons the streets are so narrow is to maximize courtyard space. We walked by some beauties. They have an annual 'patio walk' in Córdoba, similar to our 'Secret Garden Tour' at home. I'd love to see that.

That evening, on our way to supper, we came across another procession right near our room. And there were purple hats too! This one actually happened and it was quite a bit of fun. The crowd was smaller than in Granada, but still big enough to make us find an alternate route to supper. We'd learn to call this a small crowd before the week was out. But as we drank wine and ate tapas, we watched the TV and got a hint of the fervour these processions cause all over Andalucia. The TV had pictures from Seville, Malaga, Cadiz, Huelva, Granada and Córdoba, showing crowds and processions getting underway all across the region. Then it cut to the sad news from Brussels, about which I've already written.

Finally it was time for our tour of the Mesquita. You can get in for free between 8:30AM and 10:30AM, so that's exactly what we did. Along with 500 other people who got there earlier than we did. No matter though, the Mesquita is massive. 5000 people could be in there and it wouldn't feel crowded.

The site has an interesting history. First there was a Romman temple on the site. After the Romans retreated, the Visigoths built a Christian temple on the site. When the Moors conquered Spain, the site was split and Christians and Muslims worshiped side by side. Then in the 8th century, the Sultan in power bought the Christian half and built the largest Mosque in Western Europe on the site. Then, with the Christian re-conquest in the 13th century, a huge cathedral was built inside the Mosque. That is to say, the entire building is a cathedral, but the Christian bits have been added to the Muslim bits. So the whole structure looks rather odd. Muslim architecture but Christian icons, with a Gothic cathedral in the middle.

It's odd and overwhelmingly spectacular at the same time. We spent two hours looking up and taking pictures that in no way portray the grandeur of the place. Because it's an active Cathedral and not a museum, there's very little mention of the Muslim antecedents of the building. However there is a section at the back that has been left in it's original Moorish state. Plus there is a display of some remains of the Visigoth temple in one corner too. It's a shame, really, because there is so much layered history here that an interpretive pamphlet would really make the history come alive. There are private tour groups that do this; might be worth your while when you visit. Or read up ahead. Or just enjoy the majesty of the place.

We were getting tapas'd out. The effort to interpreting Spanish menus and coming to decisions on what was or was not octopus was tiring us out. And that time I went to what I thought was a coffee shop on the plaza but learned they sold pails of snails really freaked me out. So for supper on our last night in Córdoba we decided in advance to head to the Jewish Quarter beside the Mesquita and find an Arabian place with couscous and chicken tajin. It was Wednesday night and we thought we'd be relatively safe from Easter procession crowds. Boy were we wrong.

The easiest way to Mesquita from our place is to go down our little 'main street', through the town square, then turn left and head down to the river. But our main street was packed; we could see Mary heading off down the road towards a church. There was no way that would work.

So we took a left and tried to get ahead of the parade. If we could get ahead of the first purple hoods, it was polite to cross the road. So we leaped ahead of Mary's procession and got to the town square, but that was even more jammed. Jesus had already made it to the town square. So we went further left, parallel to the parade route, until we reached the river, then backtracked and got to the Jewish Quarter.

We started looking for a restaurant with couscous and tajin (by that point I was actually craving couscous) but soon realized we were deep into the tourist zone. Too many English menus. Too many burgers. Too many cocktails. And the crowds kept growing and growing. Finally, after an hour of looking, we found a place with couscous on the menu and a table for two just inside the door. We ducked in and tried to ignore all the English being spoken around us.

Soon we couldn't hear the English for all the drumming. Another procession was passing right beside the restaurant! Right by our table, in fact. I pushed outside and grabbed a few pictures between courses.

For a "TGI-Couscous" this place wasn't too bad. We paid and plotted our course for home. There was still a huge crowd at the restaurant. Too big to cross. But the Mesquita was behind us. If we went the long way round the Mesquita maybe we could find open road.

So we headed out along the south side of the Mesquita and after a while turned right, into a huge crowd of spectators, hooded processioners and a full band. Another procession! They hadn't really started, so we crossed the street and tried to pass along the crowd on the left. That didn't really work, so after a block we ducked down a side street and tried walking parallel to the procession again. We got stuck 1/2 a block from the intersection. Just solid people, and too far away to see the procession anyway.

I muttered to Cindy, "the Christians are pushing us back to the river!", which was happening, albeit unintentionally. But that gave us an idea. We headed to the river, away from our room, then walked along it until we were at least eight blocks past the Mesquita, the town square and even our little "main street." Then north, then back and safely home.

In all, we saw four different Mary floats and at least three Jesus floats, eight bands and five different colours of hoods. It was quite a night. But my favourite thing of all was the little kids collecting wax balls, drip by drip, from the candles carried by the hooded folk. And the hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of people, from the very young, to the very old, eating sunflower seeds along the parade route. And by morning, how it was all swept up so there was no way of knowing the processions even happened. But they did. And it was amazing.