Yesterday’s afternoon coffee seemed to have no ill effects. We got about 10 hours of sleep, such a luxury for me! We woke up in plenty of time to get to the station, have breakfast there, and catch our 11:00 AVE train to Cordoba.
All over Spain, we had noticed that fresh orange juice was very popular. This seemed to be especially true in Sevilla. It stands to reason, since orange groves blanket the region, and there’s even a variety of orange named after the town. Dan ordered an orange juice with breakfast, and this gave us an opportunity to see the workings of the juicer machine. We had seen this particular type of juicer all over, but usually from the back. They typically have two wire chutes that feed the oranges into the machine. Each orange is sliced in half and rotated against a juicer mechanism. This was fun to watch, and the results were delicious.
The boarding process for the AVE train was something like getting on a plane: we “checked in” at a window, then our bags were x-rayed. My poor film had already been x-rayed a number of times. As I’ve said before, the AVE is a very nice train. Our ride is super-smooth, and everything feels new and nicely done. We saw many, many, many orange groves along the way to Cordoba!
We decided to walk from the train station into the city. There was an odd sign at the first big intersection we came to. It had an LED display that refreshed frequently, graphing the levels of different environmental pollutants, noting the sources of the pollution, and ranking how harmful they are to people, plants and animals.
Our general goal for Cordoba is to get to the Mezquita, the venerable and enormous mosque in the old section of the city. To get there, we first walked through a series of city gardens, Jardines Diego de Rivas and Jardines de la Victoria, that runs along a row of grubby high-rise apartment buildings. Once we passed this perimeter and got into the older part of the town, Cordoba was lovely and charming. We soon lost ourselves in aimless wandering and picture taking.
Salon de Thé
It was very easy to become completely absorbed in photographing old buildings and plazas and architectural details. One of the minor photographic themes I’d picked up on earlier in the trip was heart shapes in ironwork. Though this was not necessarily going to result in any deep, meaningful artistic expression, it was fun, so I was keeping an eye out for more of them. We were on our honeymoon, after all! I soon found several hearts in iron window gratings.
After a little while, we came around a bend in a twisty little street, and saw a sign for the Salon de Thé. (This links to Dan’s site. I completely forgot to take any photos! It’s a good thing I’m not a journalist…) This place was fabulous! The tea room was situated in the ground-floor courtyard of an older building, which was built around it. The courtyard was open to the sky, with retractable awnings to provide shade and shelter from rain. Each side of the space had a brick arch that led into the interior of the building. The kitchen and tea-making facilities were just beyond one arch, and on the other side was some seating and the restrooms. The rest of the space was filled with lovely, lush plants, and low tables and chairs. I just loved this layout, and the idea of having a private outdoor space so integrated into a home. If I ever build my own house, I will seriously consider employing this approach.
There was almost no one else in the place when we arrived, which was fortunate. The fellow running the shop was all alone, and he was very slow in preparing and serving our order. But with good music and such lovely surroundings, we couldn’t have cared less about that! Other groups trickled in after we arrived, and soon the atmosphere was more lively. We eventually got our baklava, Dan’s icy lemonade-tea drink, and my hot, sweet Moroccan mint tea, served the traditional way in a painted glass.
This afternoon really demonstrated to us the importance of leaving room in your itinerary for unexpected delights.
After our tea break, we got slightly more serious about looking for the Mezquita. Mind you, it’s a hard building to miss. This structure is so large, that when the Catholics regained power in Spain, they built a cathedral inside the mosque. And it’s not exactly a short walk from the entrance to the cathedral in the center. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Mezquita is surrounded by a wall that encloses the mosque building and the Patio de los Naranjos outside it. This is the “Patio of the Orange Trees,” a common feature of mosques in this region. The patio was planted with orderly rows of orange trees, linked by irrigation channels and paved all over with small stones in geometric patterns. It was a pleasant area to walk around.
The mosque itself is very impressive. It is filled with row upon row of beautiful, massive double arches made of red brick and sandstone. The original building, erected around 960 A.D., contained 1300 of these arches, and there are about 850 remaining today. Once inside, you can just keep walking through these arches. We tried to take photos, but it was difficult because there was very little light available. Unfortunately, no tripods were allowed, not even Dan’s tiny tabletop tripod, so we were stymied. I did manage to get a couple of reasonable hand-held shots. The exterior wall is also quite impressive, covered in intricate details and arched portals.
Our next goal was to locate the 14th century synagogue on Calle Judíos in the Judería district. It was tiny but very lovely, with windows near the very high ceiling, and intricate textures sculpted into the plater walls. Dan has some lovely photos of the synagogue; his digital camera was more adaptable to the low light inside.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the vicinity of the Mezquita. After stopping for a snack (another of the wretched ham sandwiches that seemed to be a staple of Spanish tourist areas), we scoped out some restaurants for dinner. We decided that a place called El Churrasco seemed the most promising, and made a reservation. Many of the shops in town were selling small decorative tiles with letters on them, as well as frames to hold them, that were meant to use as home decorations. I decided this would be a good birthday gift for my friend Jen, who had bought a new house recently, so I picked out tiles to spell her last name.
By now it was fairly late in the afternoon, and we had a little time to kill before our dinner reservation.
We headed down toward the river’s edge, past the outside wall of the Mezquita. There was a pleasant path along the river, and we found our way to some benches near the foot of the Puente Romano. It was a fairly steep drop from the street level down to the river, and when we looked over the wall at the side of the path, we could see a wide swath of marshy wetlands along the edge of the river itself.
A number of very large trees were growing in the marsh, and they appeared to be a favorite roosting spot. As we sat and rested, we watched large flocks of birds coming together over the water and then congregating in trees. We were pretty far away, so it was difficult to judge how big the birds were. I would guess they were about the size of ravens. They were also black, and could very well have actually been ravens. The most interesting thing was that they just kept coming and coming. The trees were covered in hundreds, and probably thousands, of birds. New groups kept coming in a steady stream throughout the twenty minutes or so that we were watching. This whole experience was pretty neat, but also a little bit eerie.
Our dinner at El Churrasco was very good. We had some manzanilla sherry as an aperitif, and I was coming to like this habit quite a bit. We each had soup for a starter, traditional gazpacho for me. My entree was a tasty tuna steak, while Dan had venison with a really delicious sauce. Dessert was coffee mousse topped with toffee sauce. We finished off our bottle of wine, leaving me a little drunk, and Dan very drunk. Rather than trying to find our way in this state, we decided to catch a cab back to train station. From there, it was a nice and easy ride back to Sevilla, a pleasant end to a very pleasant day.