The Patios of Córdoba

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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.


The Streets of Barcelona

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Barcelona turned out to be such a cool city and I’m glad I included it in my Spain trip.
On my first day there, I went on a free walking tour which is always a great way to get introduced to a new place. The old Gothic Quarter, El Barri Gòtic, was my favourite area for its history and medieval buildings.

The rose window of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi.

In the square outside the Church of San Felip Neri.

This Church is also a reminder of the Spanish Civil War as it remains marked with bullet holes.

The Architects Association, Collegi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya, in Plaça Nova features Picasso’s only outdoor piece and it’s a fun one.

The Cathedral of Barcelona.

Walking around, I noticed that unlike previous Spanish cities, the street style in Barcelona was very casual so that I blended in easily with the locals in my t-shirt, jeans and Keds. See, I love dressing up but there’s only so much a girl can do to be fashionable when travelling out of a backpack.

In Plaça del Rei looking at what used to be the watchtower of the Royal Palace.

The steps of the Palace.

The City Hall.

Plaça Reial or the Royal Plaza.

Winding through the narrow alleys.

One of the main things that makes Barcelona stand out from the rest of Spain is its Catalan identity and the people are very proud of it. For instance, Catalan flags can be seen hanging all over the city; those featuring a blue triangle with a white star indicate support for separatism.

At the end of the tour, I went for a stroll along the Mediterranean where I spent the rest of the day.

You can see the goldfish sculpture and the twin towers at the end by the Olympic Port.

Fun fact: Barceloneta beach was made by importing sand from Egypt prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. 

The following day, I was eager to go explore on my own and started off from La Rambla which is a popular street filled with tourists (as well as pickpockets).

At Palau Güell, designed by Gaudí.

The architect Antoni Gaudí is most famous for the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell—which I will write about in my next post—but his work can be found in other parts of the city too. There were lanterns designed by him in Plaça Reial, for example, and the Güell Palace whose façade is seen above, was also created by him.

After wandering around for a bit, I headed to La Boqueria which was a very colourful experience.

The full name of the market is actually Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria.

A shop selling various spices.

These bright fruit smoothies have become a bit of a tourist cliché but I loved the kiwi-coconut nonetheless.

After visiting the market, I continued walking up the street towards Passeig de Gràcia.

I passed by the Obama Bar. 

I remember thinking how similar this building was to the Metropolis building in Madrid. I would later learn that both were designed by the same architects for the same company, La Unión y el Fénix.

Casa Lleó Morera.

The main attraction on this street though, and for good reason, is Gaudí’s Casa Batlló which is a narrow structure yet easy to spot because of the crowd taking photos underneath it.

By this point, I was definitely a fan of modernisme.

Once I had taken a good look at Casa Batlló, I sat down for lunch at one of the many restaurants nearby.

When the waiter brought this plate over, I couldn’t help but laugh as it reminded me of that scene in Mr. Bean’s Holiday where he tries to eat shrimp. Luckily, my experience wasn’t nearly as bad and drenched in lemon, the prawns were quite good except they’re more work than you’d think.

Wandering in Madrid

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My first day in the Spanish capital started with a visit to the Prado Museum. Maybe it’s because I recognized a lot of the works therethank you, Grade 11 art classbut I happily spent a couple hours looking at all the paintings and listening to the audio guide. My favourite was definitely Goya’s “The Third of May” which I’ve always found to be quite powerful.

After spending that much time indoors, I headed to Retiro Park.

I was starting to get used to seeing clouds again after being spoiled by all the clear, sunny days down south in Andalucía. Plus, the Park was quite elegant.

Fun fact: The Crystal Palace was built as a greenhouse; this is also why it’s so humid inside.

After strolling in the Park, I decided to walk over to the Royal Palace.

Puerta de Alcalá.

Being in downtown, it was clear that Madrid was a busy city. The hustle and bustle of daily life and men in suits speed-walking from one place to another made me glad that I was on vacation. There was a sense of economic distress as well which was ironically, easy to forget in the south.

Palacio de Cibeles and the Cibeles fountain.

The Metropolis building was my favourite piece of architecture in Madrid. It’s simple and iconic!

Outside the Royal Palace.

The Palace was just closing by the time I reached it so I returned the next day with a couple friends from my hostel to see it from the inside. From the ceiling to the walls to the floors, I found every room decorated extravagantly to the point that it screamed money. In fact, I could barely gather my thoughts in Salon de Gaspirini so that I left with a new appreciation for the subtlety of the palaces of Andalucía.

The Almudena Cathedral across from the Palace.

Soon, we came to the Temple of Debod—one of the coolest sites around—which was given as a gift to Spain by Egypt in 1968.

Earlier that day, I also completed Madrid’s triangle of art by visiting the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums. I enjoyed the latter more for its collection of works by Picasso and Dali as they’re always fun to look at.

The green wall of Madrid.

Wandering through the streets.

At Puerta del Sol.

In Plaza Mayor. 

Although I liked Madrid, the main thing that I found difficult to get around was the city’s obsession with meats and jamón. Hence, if you have dietary restrictions, I recommend looking up some restaurants beforehand. Speaking of food, I would love some churros right now…

An Evening in Málaga

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My trip to Málaga was unplanned. It actually ended up being on my itinerary because it was cheaper to fly in and out of in comparison to Madrid. Plus, it would have taken me about the same amount of time via train to reach Sevilla from Málaga as it would from Madrid.

When I returned to Málaga after having completed my Spain trip, I had no expectations or plans for the town. This is not to say that it wasn’t interesting enough but rather, I had enjoyed all the other places so much that it would have been fine even if I did nothing at all.

But that’s not really me, is it? In the few hours that I had before turning in, I decided to get some exploring done and I was pleasantly surprised by what a lovely place Málaga was!

I began by joining a free walking tour from my hostel which fortunately I was able to make. On route, I learnt about the town’s rich history and saw many landmarks.

In Plaza de la Merced. The faint purple flowers are from the Jacaranda trees common in Andalucía.

El Biznaguero (Jasmine Seller) with the Alcazaba to the right. I didn’t have enough time to visit it but the view is supposed to be beautiful from up there.

The Cathedral of Málaga.

After the tour, I relaxed back at the hostel for a bit before going out for dinner. I cannot remember where I ate but I did drop by the famous El Pimpi later on. Following some tapas and a look around, I think I can safely say that although it was quite lively and had nice decor, it would be too touristy to visit regularly.

Fun fact: Antonio Banderas is from Málaga and he’s famous in the city.

I then headed out for a paseo or evening stroll. Being right by the coast, the weather was perfect.

Peeking down Calle Molina Lario.

Calle Larios is the main shopping street in Málaga and I loved the ambience. 

I ended the night by the port where people were walking around and enjoying the cool breeze. It was a great way to end my trip to Spain, thinking of all the adventures I could not believe I had just had.

The Mosque of Córdoba

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Standing in the Patio de los Naranjos of the Mosque of Córdoba, I was reminded of the Cathedral of Sevilla. Apart from the historical similarities—both were once great mosques in the capital city of their Muslim rulers—they also share physical elements like a courtyard of orange trees.

But once I stepped inside, it became immediately clear that this was something else.

Built under the Umayyad leader Abd al-Rahman I in the 8th century, the Mosque of Córdoba is infamous for its design. Indeed, the arrangement of columns and arches is such that the space seems to extend beautifully into infinity in all directions.

Like Sevilla’s, the Mosque of Córdoba was converted into a Cathedral after the Reconquista so a significant part of it today is made up of Chapels.

The Cathedral is interesting in itself but remains very out-of-place in the centre of the Mosque.

Some sections of the Mosque are very intricate and well-preserved while others, especially those left from the original building, have faded overtime.

The mihrab.

Nevertheless, there is plenty to take in.

After visiting the Mosque, I headed back out onto the sunny streets.

Through the narrow alleys, I made my way across town.

The delight of finding bougainvillea is like nothing else.

I then stopped at Museo de la Tapa y El Vino for lunch; it seems to have low reviews online but I had a lovely experience.

This honey eggplant dish was yummy!

With salmorejo, of course.

I also liked this area because it’s by the river and you can get a peek of the view if you sit outside.

Paseo de la Ribera is great for a stroll or in my case, a sketching session from a bench.

Happily filled with lunch, I continued wandering through the rest of the neighbourhood.

Exploring Córdoba

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I started my first day in Córdoba from one of the oldest sites around: the Roman bridge.

Although the bridge has been renovated and reconstructed several times over the course of history, it was initially built by the Romans in the 1st century. Passing through the Puerta del Puente, I slowly made my way over.

Found myself at the Guadalquivir River again. It was definitely nicer in Sevilla though.

Down the bridge, I came across a man offering to write your name in Arabic calligraphy for €2. I could hardly pass that up!

There wasn’t much to see immediately on the other side so I wandered around for a little bit before returning to the historic center.

I did come across a cute church.

Ready to get a move on, I went to the Alcázar which was once the residence of the Muslim rulers. Today, its best feature is the gardens.

The low hills in the background. Towards the left, you can just make out the Roman bridge.

Córdoba is one of the hottest places in Spain, if not mainland Europe, and although it was nowhere near as warm as it gets in the summer, it was refreshing to be in the cool gardens on a sunny day.

Knowing that I would need a few hours to experience the Mosque of Córdoba, I passed by it for the time being and continued on.

Strolling around the narrow alleys, I soon came across Plaza Maimonides in the Jewish Quarter. Given Córdoba’s illustrious past as a flourishing city of Muslims, Christians and Jews, let alone the center of education, it’s not surprising that it gave rise to influential people.

If only my philosophy classes had been taught on location.

Outside the Puerta de Almodóvar.

By this point, it was time for a late lunch. I stopped by at a little restaurant in one of the town’s squares.

I’ve had better salmorejo but I promise, the artichoke dish was so much better than it looks!

This building is a part of the University of Córdoba.

Passing by a colourful tourist shop.

I then explored some of the patios; because of this festival, I will forever remember Córdoba in shades of pink and blue.

The sign saying “Córdoba 2016” reflects the efforts to become a European Capital of Culture.

Filled with the scent of flowers, I called it a day and headed back to my hostel Al-Katre. The owner, an incredibly friendly lady from Valencia, made my stay in Córdoba a whole lot more memorable and I would recommend it.