The Patios of Córdoba

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Andalucía

Happy Spring, everyone! The grass is finally green, the sky is blue and there are flowers out. It’s such a lovely time of the year and if there is one place I’ve been to in Spain that celebrates this season beautifully, it’s the small town of Córdoba.

Córdoba is known for its rich Islamic history and exceptionally hot summers which is how we ended up with the tradition of almost every home having an internal courtyard or patio. La Feista de Los Patios began in the early 1900’s and gave a new meaning to these spaces by creating an annual competition during May. Residents decorate their patios with plants and once the contest starts, open their doors to the public. Some families have been participating—and often winning—for decades!

All you have to do is grab a map and it shows you the hours of visitation and the places in the various neighbourhoods that are taking part. Plus, each site is marked by two small trees making it easy to find.

Since the event is free, you can see as many patios as you like. It is nice though to say a few kind words or leave some coins to show appreciation.

Most patios are in homes but there are also low-rise buildings and religious institutions that enter. Despite there being over 50 patios last spring, I loved seeing many of them because there is so much variety and each stands out for a different reason.

For example, the burst of blue.

The fountains.

Especially the small quirky ones.

The thoughtful arrangements.

Sometimes, just the sheer number of flower pots.

Or, the size of the patio itself.

Maybe even the island vibes.

Amazing, right? There are also additional spring festivals in Córdoba both before and after Los Patios so if you are in town for long enough, you could enjoy more than one!

A shout-out to Young Adventuress as her blog was where I first heard about Los Patios.

A Golden Evening in Granada

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Andalucía

I arrived in Granada via train in the late afternoon. Looking out from my cab, one of the first things I noticed about my surroundings was the change in the colour palette. While architecture in Sevilla often featured bright yellows, pinks and reds on a white background, Granada was painted in softer shades and especially, browns. Every now and then, I caught a glimpse of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada amongst the buildings which created a pleasant hill town atmosphere. A few minutes and a mere €7 fare later, I checked in at my hostel Granada Inn; the “Inn” is a lovely, rectangular low-rise in Andalucían style with a long courtyard and I would definitely recommend it.

After freshening up, I realized that lunch was long overdue and headed into one of the many elegant restaurants on a nearby street. I read through the list of soups on the menu and since trying Gazpacho, I was looking for something thicker when I came across its cousin, Salmorejo.

Simply made with tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic, the cold soup is topped with boiled egg—and usually, bits of bacon but I opted out of those—and it’s very creamy. I took my time savouring it and then returned to the hostel to grab a few things but ended up meeting one of my roommates who had just arrived. She was a solo traveller too so we decided to go explore the town together.

We headed down the lively shopping street Calle Reyes Católicos and passed by a few different sites.

The Santa Ana Church in Plaza Nueva.

Soon, we made a left and began walking uphill into the Albaicín. This quaint neighbourhood was one of the main Arab areas of inhabitance and filled with mosques, shops and even a royal court of the Zirid dynasty in the 11th century. Today, parts of it can be a little run-down and might not smell the best because of the dogs but it’s still charming.

We wandered through the narrow alleys and turned corners at whim getting wonderfully lost.

There were other tourists around too along with locals and children laughing and playing.

The homes in the Albaicín, including their entrances, remain quite influenced by the original Moorish style.

I also loved that many had beautifully overgrown plants. The scent from this cármen’s jasmines wafted through the lane.

We then made our way to the Mirador de San Nicolás. Given the hilly setting of old Granada, there are several great viewpoints and this one is located in the square behind the Church of San Nicolás. I remember walking towards the wall and thinking, “so, this is where the photos of the Alhambra are taken from!” It was like the Mount of Olives all over again.

The weather, those cyprus trees and that Palace. I mean, can you say wow? The view was breathtaking and I had one of those moments which remind you that this is why you travel.

Looking out towards the more modern part of Granada.

Once we had taken in the scene and snapped enough photos, we considered going to the highest Mirador shown on the map but following a couple dónde está, we realized that it was not only much further uphill and confusing to get to but also isolated. So, we abandoned that idea and continued exploring the neighbourhood.

The minaret of a mosque is seen above with a verse written in Kufic script.

As we were strolling around, we stumbled upon a moroccan tetería, i.e. tea house, called As-Sirat in Placeta de la Charca. I am quite glad we found this place because it was beautiful, authentic and well-priced! The decor was lovely and the owner very hospitable.

We took a brief look around and eagerly sat down for some tea at one of the hexagon-shaped tables. I had no idea which one to try so I asked for a recommendation. Within a few minutes, she brought over a flower-based one called Nazari tea which smelt really nice and had a strong, unique taste. We chatted with her over our drinks and listening to her talk about Morocco made me want to visit it even more.

Happily filled with tea, we thanked her for her time and continued our wanderings.

By the time the sun got close to setting, we were famished and decided to stay in the Albaicín for dinner. We chose El Ladrillo II and enjoyed our free tapa as we waited for the paella to arrive.

Paella is a popular Spanish dish which is rice-based and originated in Valencia. There are a few different types but we went for the seafood option or Paella de Mariscos. Given its size, the dish is best shared between two or more people but when ordering, keep in mind that the listed prices are per person and not total. Also, when the Spaniards say seafood, they mean seafood.

The paella included mussels, shrimp, baby squid, fish and clams which were soon drenched in lemon juice.

My friend and I enjoyed the decor along with our food and we liked that the canopy was withdrawn at night so that we finished our meal in the open air. However, our service was only alright and the restaurant seems to get some very mixed reviews online so I am not sure if we just got lucky.

With the rest of our paella packed to go, we headed downhill and to our hostel. We tried to get to bed early but being women, this was easier said then done and it was past midnight by the time we set our alarms to 5am and finally, went to sleep. In a few hours, we were going to the Alhambra!

Seeing the Alhambra: Part II

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Andalucía

Leaving the Nasrid palaces, I wandered shortly around El Partal before heading to the Generalife.

Walking over to the Palacio de Generalife, I realized it was a significant enough distance from the Alhambra to be completely removed from anything that went on there. This was, of course, the point anyway since it was built in the 13th century as a sort of getaway for the royals.

Although the Generalife is not nearly as well-preserved or grand as the Alhambra, I loved it; especially for its gardens. It is hard to know to what extent the gardens today reflect those of the emirs but the sound of water running through the fountains and the smell of flowers at every corner must be the same.

I sat here with one leg thrown over the side for quite some time just taking in the beauty of everything around me. I then left the Generalife and began heading back the way I came.

Exiting through this door, I roamed around the castle walls which used to make up the fortress, or the Alcazaba, of the Alhambra. They also provided some more magnificent views of historic Granada.

With one last look at the Sierra Nevada, I returned to my hostel and happily relaxed for the rest of the day because after seeing the Alhambra, there is not much space left in your mind to think about anyplace else.

Seeing the Alhambra: Part I

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A couple hours later at 5am, my alarm went off. My roommate and I got ready quietly as to not wake up the other girls in our apartment. Half-awake but excited, we left our hostel and headed out into the sleepy town. The air was cool and the stars were still out. The main street was empty except for a few people at a nearby bus stop and the cabs searching for customers. Since it was too early to take the bus we needed, we hopped into a taxi. Destination? The Alhambra!

After a few minutes of driving uphill, we reached the Pabellón de acceso and joined the short queue at the ticket office. Both of us had been unable to purchase tickets online ahead of time—they can sell out really fast—and to buy them on the day of, the safest bet was to line up long before the office opened. So, knowing that we would be waiting for a couple hours, we sat down and made ourselves comfortable by the cyprus trees.

It was chilly up here but I loved being out at this hour. While sprinklers sprayed the gardens behind us and a few guards strolled around, we began chatting with the other tourists in line and discussed everything from travel to politics; okay, the latter may have been because of me. Slowly, daylight spread across the sky and a few coffees later, we had our tickets! But since we received entry for the afternoon visit, we decided to go down to see a friend of ours in the meantime.

We then separated and I had a long, delicious brunch before making my way back. Being early May, there was white fluffy stuff flying all around from the trees but on that path up to the Palace, there was so much of it that it seemed like it was snowing in summer. I thought it was absolutely beautiful—although someone pointed out that those with allergies may not agree—and I wish I could have captured it on camera. The uphill walk also turned out to be quite a leg workout so, I was happy to finally reach the top and enter the complex.

The entire Alhambra is huge but I started by seeing the best part first, i.e. the Nasrid Palaces. The first set of rooms are part of the Palacio del Mexuar. The one seen above was used for prayers.

I walked around slowly, taking in everything around me. The architecture and design, the use of space and water… it was all simply breathtaking. I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store.

The Patio de los Arrayanes, Court of the Myrtles, is in the Comares Palace which made up the official residences of the emir. Construction began in the 14th century under Yusuf I and finished under his son Mohammed V. The white portion is a result of the Charles V Palace built after the fall of Granada.

Behind this lovely Patio is Torre de Comares which is the biggest one of the towers and most noticeable from outside.

It was also cool to see where the inspiration for the Alcázar of Sevilla had come from but I am glad I saw it before the Alhambra or I may not have been able to enjoy it as much. I mean, how can you be satisfied once you’ve seen this?

A close-up of the woodwork in the Hall of the Ambassadors, or the throne room, inside the Torre de Comares.

After taking a final glance back at the Court of the Myrtles, I then made my way to the Palacio de los Leones which exudes majesty and power on a whole other level.

Mohammed V is also to credit for the building of the Palace of the Lions and actually, for a lot of the Alhambra that we see today as he made improvements as well. This Palace formed the private residences of the emir and his family.

The light reflecting off the floor here was blinding after a while but I’m glad it produced great photos!

There were several private rooms branching out from the Patio and I happily got lost around here a few times only figuring the way out after asking an amused guard.

The Sala de Dos Hermanas, Hall of the Two Sisters, has some of the most incredible ceilings I’ve ever seen.

The way out from the Patio led to a balcony with this gorgeous view; just when you think it can’t get better.

Towards the centre left of the photo, you can see the tower of the Church of San Nicolás in the Albaicín where I had been the day before. At the bottom is the main street that runs along the Darro River.

I then took a seat in the Patio de Lindaraja which was lovely with orange trees around the square and a fountain in the centre. After spending a few minutes resting here and allowing everything to sink in more, I was ready to go explore the second part of the Alhambra and began making my way over to the gardens.

The Cathedral of Sevilla

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Andalucía

On my final day in Sevilla, I decided to start off by checking out the gothic Cathedral. It’s huge and so, it comes as no surprise that it’s the third largest Cathedral in the world. Finished in the early 1500’s, there are numerous chapels within the building and a large Main Chapel. Fun fact: it also has the tomb of explorer Christopher Columbus.

The ceiling in the Sala Capitular.

After walking around inside the Cathedral and seeing the various rooms, I went out to the Patio de los Naranjos which is so named because of its orange trees. The Cathedral was actually built on the site of the Almohads’ Great Mosque but this courtyard—previously used for ablution—and the Giralda are one of the few remnants of it. The Giralda used to be the minaret of the Mosque until it was converted to a bell tower; an additional section was added to the top of the structure as well. I sat in the Patio for a few minutes and relaxed before heading up the tower.

The Moors climbed the Giralda on horseback and once you start walking up, you can easily understand why. It’s a work out. However, the hike is not nearly as bad as it may seem at first. If you are healthy and able, there should be nothing stopping you! Plus, there are windows on the way and once you get to the very top, you are rewarded by these gorgeous views which are much better than those offered by the Metropol Parasol due to the 100m height.

To the left is the neighbourhood of Santa Cruz. To the right, you have Plaza de España (top), the Alcázar (middle) and Plaza del Triunfo (bottom).

In the back, you can see the Guadalquivir River. The square building in the centre is the General Archive of the Indies.

The Giralda is definitely my favourite landmark in Sevilla!

I then took a long walk through the city and ended up by the river on the other side.

The City Hall in Plaza Nueva where I sat the night before.

Loving the building to the right of the lamp post.

On Calle Velázquez.

In the Macarena neighbourhood. This gate dates back to the Muslims who called it Bab-al-Makrin; it is now known as Puerta de la Macarena.  To the right, is a Basilica.

I eventually found my way back to Santa Cruz and ended my afternoon with some tapas. One of the dishes I had were these yummy garlic potatoes. Can you tell I started eating first only to remember that I had not snapped a photo?