During my stay in Andalusia, I had been asking my acquaintances, both locals and travelers, which southern city they cherish most. And to my surprise, most answers did not suggest the famous Seville. Rather, they mentioned either Córdoba or Granada, and so I decided that these two are the must-see gems while I was enjoying my own expat-in-Andalusia experience. Fortunately for me, having participated in Erasmus in Czech Republic last year, I had made a decent number of friends and acquaintances across Europe, particularly in Spain, and one of them just so happens to live and study in Córdoba. What could be better than to connect two pleasant experiences into one – spending time with a dear Erasmus friend, and exploring a new city.
And so I bought the cheapest return bus ticket EVER, considering the distance (only 17.5 euros with Sociobus), and after less than three hours, I was finally there.
Exploring the Historic Center
My friend Marina picked me up at the station, her warm hug making it really hard for me not to start crying out of excitement caused by the reunion with someone from Erasmus. She took me into her home, introduced me to her more than welcoming family, and even went out of her way to let me sleep in her bed, while she herself slept in another room. As soon as I left my things and got refreshed after the long bus ride, we headed out on foot to check out the Historic center of the city with all the touristy attractions. After all, before getting immersed completely into the local life style, I had to make sure to get some proper visual material for my blog!
The first thing that catches one’s eye is definitely the grandiose Roman bridge, set upon the Guadalquivir River to connect its two banks. My heart goes drumming suddenly upon the realization that this is the exact same famous bridge where certain Game of Thrones scenes were shot, and I immediately think of all my friends who share the same passion for the show with me, feeling as if though they are truly there with me, marveling the bridge for the first time, pretending to be a character from the series. We cross the bridge to get the best view of the old town from the other side of the river, Marina acting like a true local, explaining the names of certain sights and giving me insider tips on best spots for good photos.
Back in the old town quarter, Marina leads me through both main, crowded streets, and tiny secret ones to show me Córdoba’s charming appeal. One of the main attractions in this part is, beyond a doubt, the Mezquita (Great Mosque or Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption). We visit this gem of Moorish architecture, and Marina explains its rich history which brought on an interesting and impressive mixture of architectural styles.
Originally built as a Catholic Christian church, it was later divided into Muslim and Christian halves. In the 8th century, the Caliph purchased the Christian part, demolished the structure, and built the Mosque of Córdoba on that ground. During the Reconquista period, the Mosque was converted to a Roman Catholic church, and in the 16th century the adaptation of a Reneiscance cathedral nave took place.
Walking through the Mezquita, I could feel nothing less than awe and humility confronted with its superb architectural details. The entire interior breathes with history and culture, leaving the spectators with a mysterious chill running down their spines.
Near the Mosque, there lies the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (The Palace of the Christian Monarchs), also worth visiting. The gardens are the most beautiful part, and the towers are worth the climb to have a nice view of the old town. This fortress is a former royal property and the seat of the Inquisition.
The Royal Stables are just next door, a breeding place of the Andalusian horse. Walking around the stables we were able to see the beautiful horses being bathed and groomed, and even touch some of them.
Juderia (Jewish Quarter) of Córdoba is also situated in the Historic center. Irregular, narrow streets create a colorful maze filled with flowers, shops selling leather accessories, jewelry, and souvenirs. Open spice and tea stands fill the air with rich diversity of aromas.
My absolute favorite among all the tiny streets in the city is Calleja de las flores (The Street of Flowers).
A fun thing that makes Córdoba a great place to visit in May is the Patio Festival, the time when certain houses of the Historic center open its doors to public in order to display their splendid patios – paved outdoor gardens in Andalusia, surrounded by the walls of the residence. My visit to the city was prior to the actual festival, but the patios were nevertheless already prepared, and the entrance to one of them was free of charge.
Once inside the patio, we marveled a unique explosion of sunlight and colorful flowers which decorate walls, windows, wells, and stairs – literally everything you can find within the patio.
A charming statue made as a representation of a typical Córdoban woman watering the plants in her patio can be found at the outskirts of the old town.
Eat Like a Local
At some point of our touristy sightseeing, the heat became unbearable, the temperature reaching 32°C even during the first days of May. According to various sources, Córdoba is actually the city with warmest summer high temperatures in Spain, and even Europe. We decided to escape the hot spell for a while, seeking shelter away from the sun in one of the local bars. The central part of the old town was crowded with both locals and tourists, bars and restaurants so packed with people that many took their food outside the bar areas, sitting around different parts of the streets, enjoying their meals and drinks while cheerfully chatting with friends and passers-by. It was the weekend of Cruces (May Crosses Festival), so the streets were filled with music, and some people were already starting to dance and celebrate early in the afternoon.
Marina took me away from the crowds, to a nearby restaurant – less crowded, cheaper, and still offering excellent food. “You HAVE to try salmorejo in Córdoba”, stressed everybody who had ever visited the city, and so that’s what I had been waiting for all along. Salmorejo is a kind of purée made of tomatoes, bread, oil, and garlic, decorated with boiled eggs and ham. Eating this simple, but splendid dish in the middle of a hot summer day is the most refreshing option you might choose, so I am not surprised this dish is so famous and frequently asked for across Andalusia.
Embrace the Night Life on the Streets
After a long, hot, fun day on the streets of Córdoba, the Cruces festival night was waiting for us to go party. And the parties of Andalusia are always best when they happen out on the street – which is the case most of the time!
During this popular festival, the squares of the city are filled with numerous crosses made of flowers. These are all part of a competition organized by the town council, and it is an old religious tradition. The ambient of Córdoba at this time of year is very colorful, and festive spirits fill the air everywhere, especially at night, when the city comes alive with concerts, music, and hoards of people dancing, singing, and drinking outside.
And so, Marina and I joined some of her friends and headed out to join the cheerful crowds. Oh man, how I love Andalusia! Everyone so friendly, everyone dancing and trying to talk to you, it so easy to have fun and meet people, and simply enjoy life. Once we immersed into the crowd, the rivers of typical Andalusian drinks like tinto de verano and rebujito began to flow. I danced with everyone, laughing and dancing happily, trying to learn the steps of the sevillana dance – unsuccessfully. The rest is a blur.
The Hangover Day
In spite of the crazy party, we managed to get up the next day, just in time to get ready for lunch with Marina’s family. Marina’s parents were celebrating their anniversary, and they took me with them as one of their own. He delicious lunch included potato dishes, squid, flamenquin, cod fish, and, of course, more delicious salmorejo.
After lunch, Marina and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city center, and back in the Jewish quarter. We visited a beautifully arranged bar space called Patios de la Marquesa, where Marina’s friend was singing wonderful melancholic tunes with her band.
We didn’t have the chance to listen to the whole concert since I had to get back to pick up my things and catch the bus. Less than two full days in Córdoba, and I saw a great amount things around the city, and still had time to have an awesome night out with the locals. You must see this city if you’re headed to Andalusia, and the spring time might just be the best time to do it!
Cetainly an unforgettable day, and Marina one of the absolute best hosts I’ve ever had! Thank you Marina, and your family too. Hope to see you again someday!