So! Pardon the wait!
I took the past four day weekend away from the computer and all of my modern conveniences in order to enjoy a comfortable, familiar city with some good friends. I’ve been looking forward to doing this very thing for months now, even before I arrived in Madrid. I’ve been actively fantasizing about the streets I’d amble, about exactly where I’d eat, about the coffee and tostas I’d smell, the alleys down which I’d retrace my own ghostly, two-year-old steps, and about the way the sunshine would look at 4 p.m. on the deslumbrent walls of the old Alcázar. This weekend I was in Córdoba. For the record, it’s settled now: it’s my favorite place in the whole world.
My trip started off inauspiciously. Between arriving to the bus station with only ten minutes to spare and being terrifyingly without a formally printed out ticket for which I had to dash through the station to fetch, I nearly missed the bus. I was then unlucky enough to be seated before a woman with the worst body funk–emanating from her stockinged, probably yeast-infected feet–I have ever encountered. All in all, though, save the waves of extreme nausea, I suppose the trip could have been worse. After all, I made the bus. 🙂
Olive grove by olive grove we drew nearer to Córdoba. I grew progressively more antsy and anticipatory; it was a bit like girding my loins to get a drink with an estranged lover with whom the prospect for romance might still exist. I’d been afraid that I’d built Córdoba up to fill an unimaginably grand space in my head and that when I touched down I’d find it to be a very ordinary city, nothing like the wondrous land of beauty and history I remembered. Upon arrival, though, I was comforted and realized that I had nothing at all to worry about. I stepped off the bus at 7 p.m. and even the air felt different–thick with history and that certain, special kind of Andalucian magic. I was overjoyed. It felt like coming home.
Our hostel, 75 euros a night split three ways, was affordable, comfy, and clean enough for me to ignore the spatter of something that looked like a mixture of wine and blood on the bathroom wall. Actually a series of one and two-bedroom apartments complete with kitchen, bathroom, and living room with TV, Hostal Alcázar is run by a charmer named Fernando, who in addition to being a very typical Andalucian gentleman, surprised us all the second day by popping his head off the roof with “bonjour!” and effectively disembrangling a group of lost French tourists Talia was attempting to aid. There was also a mangey but adorable dog named Carolina. It was great. Alex lounged in the double bed while I shared a twin-bedded room with Ms. Stol. I slept like a rock all three nights.
I’ll save you a truly in-depth description of all events and briefly list and describe things in this post, which will free me to to provide another post of what I think are the more important parts of the trip: the experience as a whole, the reflection, and the exhilaration I’m feeling now.
So the itinerary looked like this:
Friday night, dinner of calamari, salad, and salmorejo and a trip to the long-missed Salón de Té, pictured here.
The Té de Mil y Una Noches was as delicious as ever and, shockingly enough, the owner remembered me from two years ago. How cool is that?
Friday morning was wonderful. We rose at about 9:30 and walked through sunny Córdobese streets to Roldan, one of my favorite cafés in the city. Roldan is also home of the loveliest tostadas I have ever eaten. I am so in love with these crusty satellites of toasted bread, olive oil, whipped tomato and salt that I took a photo. Good god that makes me hungry.
Friday afternoon was our date with luxury. I’d booked a reservation for three at the Hammam–an experience I was very sorry to have missed when I lived there. Amidst sexy, dimly lit rooms with beautiful stone walls and candles in every corner, we enjoyed a turkish-style bath with three pools of different-temperature water: tepid, hot and cool. It looked basically like this (no, I don’t know those women. If you want their numbers, you’re shit out of luck).
The tepid was comfy, the hot water was juuust right, but the cold water was the rudest shock to the system I’ve experienced since being splashed from the waist down by Connecticut river water in a crew shell one frigid March morning. Needless to say, my last two cycles through, I skipped it. The massage which came with the bath was nice, but Talia, Alex and I were in accordance that it could’ve used a little more elbow grease. I wanted my muscles tenderized, and they just got fairy-fingered. Ah, well. I have a boy coming in approximately 50 days for such purposes. 🙂
Friday afternoon we went to the Alcázar de los Reyes Católicos (the Castle of the Catholic Kings), and walked around old gardens and beautiful battlements. Here’s a photo.
Friday night brought a moment I’d been waiting for for a very long time: a trip to my favorite restaurant in all the land, Amaltea. The food was as great as I remember it being, and I made a point to tell the owner–a lovely woman who has personally waited on me almost every time I’ve been there–that her place is, in fact, my favorite restaurant in all the lands I’ve been to. It commandeered my table great service, lots of smiles, and a free thing of olives. Word. I’m happy to report that the mango apricot curry chicken is in fine form, for any of those who were worried. 🙂
After our scrumptious dinner we took a walk to the bend in the Guadaluqivir, then went to get a drink atbthe former Van Beer in ciudad jardín. We had really unremarkable sangría, and I discovered that Van Beer is now actually called “La Caña de España.” Hmph. Whatever. The sangría sucked, but my sleep that night was glorious.
As was the trip to the only place I’ve ever experienced a religious experience the next morning. I don’t know what to say about La Mezquita except that it’s one of the most deeply moving, magical spaces I’ve ever had the pleasure of entering in my entire life. If you want to know about it, google it or ask me. Suffice it to say that it was the most important mosque in all of Spain during Spain’s muslim rule. Myriad other mosques were built to echo its grandeur, and it was the first mosque to ever incept a room-sized mihrab for the Quran to reside within. It’s moved me to tears twice now. It got Talia this time. Mission accomplished.
Here is only a fraction of a fraction of the Mezquita’s interior.
After our trip to the Mezquita we attemtped to enter the Julio Romero de Torres (Córdoba’s most famous painter–here‘s my favorite cuadro by him, called “La Chiquita Piconera”) museum, but ended up only doing the Museo de Bellas Artes thanks to a truly crotchety old Spanish man who gave Talia shit about her lack of passport.
After that Talia and Alex retreated to the sanctity of Hostal Alcázar for a nap whilst I communed with the streets of Córdoba, as I’ve been aching to do for nigh on two years now. A huge part of what I did with my life when I studied abroad was wander the streets and see the city, so my experience is structured by the borders of La Victoria, the Guadalquivir, and Ciudad Jardín. I followed my favorite walking route and saw all of my old favorite places, including this one, where a strange, wonderful thing that deserves (and will receive) its own post happened. It involved an old man, his life story, and me feeling like a character out of a short story. Stay tuned for the event. For now, though, here’s a picture of where it happened:
Two more wonderful things happened in Córdoba. The first was that I went to visit the residencia where I lived while I studied abroad and the owner, José, and his wife both immediately remembered me, hugged me well, inquired after my health and why the bloody hell I was back in Spain, and called me “hija” (Spanish for daughter). I was so delighted to see José–one of the kindest people I remember having met–and so sad to leave him when I finally walked out of residencia Alegría, that I cried in the street for a good five minutes. It was emotional and lovely. The second wonderful thing was that we ate David Rico ice cream (still the best ice cream I’ve ever had) and cooked a beautiful dinner together back at the Hostel on Saturday night. I made sangría, Alex chopped bread, and we constructed a gorgeous woodland salad with toasted nuts, dried fruit, goat cheese and other delicious additions.
I’m sure there’s more, but this is already a scattered, epic post that probably no one has gotten to the bottom of. Next up: more than summary–what this trip actually meant to me. It was actually a pretty impressive turning point, but if you’re uncomfortable with other people’s psyches (or mine in particular), I suggest you skip the coming post.