Visiting La Mezquita in Cordoba Spain


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July 7th: woke up early for free admission to La Mezquita . If you wake up early, then you can go to the church and get in for free (Gratis!) Make sure you are dressed to be respectful. Ladies, this means, wearing a shawl or something that covers up your shoulders. Also, make sure if you are wearing a dress or skirt that is longer than the knee or just above it. Always be a good ambassador. They are strict here, which I appreciate. Guys, you should wear pants or slacks and a t-shirt, no tanks.

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Waking up early and touring La Mezquita was awesome!!! It was everything I expected and more. The left side of cathedral had better lighting for openings in the ceiling that the Christian Kings put in later during the time of the Reconquista. You could see older arches and newer arches stacked upon each other. Just to give a quick history lesson, the visigoths (a Germanic tribe) were in Cordoba first, then the Muslims (Moors) came and lastly the Christian Kings kicked the Moors out. So, as you can see this building has been through A LOT! It was bewildering to see the beautiful Islamic style arches and then walk around and see Catholic carvings and pictures of Jesus. The Mihrab was stunningly beautiful painted with shiny golds and hunter green shades. I could see moon shapes and flower shapes in many of the panels. You have to note that these panels and spaces were hand painted by many individuals and are painstakingly lovely. A Mihrab is an opening in the wall or a niche that is pointing towards Mecca, so it is a very important part of the building. If you were to make comparisons, it would be like walking into a Catholic Cathedral and walking towards the altar. When standing in front of a Mihrab, you will see more etches and intricate designs that go into the wall. You may even see beautiful tile work or Arabic writings if you look really closely into the designs in the ceiling part of the Mihrab.

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Barely anyone was inside which made my experience better. Daily routines for maintenance were taking place early in the morning before flocks of tourists came in. There was a man cleaning the floor with a zamboni machine. I had to step aside so that he could clean the floors to shine. I was in the building for more than an hour. A early morning Catholic mass was taking place. There were speaker phones that were attached to several columns and I decided to go and stand right next to one. I didn’t feel brave enough to go and sit at mass. I feel like if I knew my Spanish a bit more, I could listen along and know when to be respectful. What a trip to listen to a Catholic mass that used to be a mosque. Talk about cultural diffusion! It is a surreal and mystical experience. For just a minute, I felt as if all the religions of the world had no hostilities and that every religion in the world was on the same page. This mosque has its religious differences set aside, because they kept the beautiful parts of the Catholic Church and they kept the exquisite parts of the mosque.

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Walking around, there is just so much detail to absorb and to feel. I had to touch some of the columns to try and feel what this building had gone through in history. It amazed me that this building had gone through several hands in history, yet maintained a quiet and serene and pristine beauty. Before I left, an Australian lady was so kind enough to take a photo of me inside the cathedral with the beautiful pink and creme arches. We exchanged a quick conversation and we both agreed that it was a spiritual and reflective experience to walk around with only less than 10 people inside. I finally decided to go outside and sit in the sun. I felt a sense of completion and purpose. I was exposed to these beautiful arches of Cordoba when teaching my AP World history students about the Ummayad and Abbasid dynasty almost 7 or 8 years ago. Something about the arches, haunted me and drew me in to its enticing story. The arches were so perfect, so geometric and so simple, yet they inspired me to travel to Spain. Kids that I have taught still taunt and tease me about the arches. I was able to tell them that I actually went and saw them!

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As I sat outside, girls were getting denied at door for not having shawls. This was the first place that enforced this rule and I appreciated this. I witnessed some small birds, possibly swallows flying around like a swarm of bats. At one point, I thought that maybe the birds were bats and still I have yet to answer that. I sat close to a water fountain and watched the local people and tourists hang out by it to be purposely splashed with water because of the escalating heat. It gets REALLY hot in Cordoba. There was some kind of bell device attached to the water fountain that made chiming noises and many people were videotaping it, including myself. Cordoba, is definitely a place that feels local. You can tell who is a tourist, who is a student and who lives there. I wasn’t used to the change in pace since I had come from bustling Madrid and Sevilla, but now when I think back and reflect on my experience, I would go back and enjoy it all over again. One more thing to note, is to go and check out the outside facade of the building as the day progresses with the sun placement. The light and dark of the day bring about a feeling as if the building is still alive and breathing. I can’t explain it, you just have to go and see it throughout the day. Oh…and if you get hungry, go eat a slice of Spanish tortilla (egg, potato & onion) at Bar Santos, you will thank me later.

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Spain in 3 weeks


In the summer of 2012, I decided to make a solo journey to a place that holds a lot of personal value to me, Spain! It is one of the few countries that I truly cherish and love. Why you might ask? The lifestyle of eating, relaxation and enjoying life is what draws me to Spain. The Spaniards truly know how to live. Yes, they might be dealing with the Euro crisis, but the Spaniards know when to take a break from work through siesta, they appreciate food and ingredients, they make a good cup of cafe and they have a fascinating history. Spain makes perfect sense to me and something about it courses through my veins just like the adrenaline rush a matador feels when dancing with the bull in the ring. Spain lives, breathes and feels. I can’t explain, JUST GO and you will see what I mean!

My itinerary was in 3 weeks was: I recommend 3 weeks if you can do it, because it allowed me to really meet the people of Spain and to interact with various people from around the world.

  1. Madrid (5 days)
  2. Toledo (1/2 day)
  3. Sevilla (2-3 days) I recommend 3!
  4. Cordoba (2 days) I recommend 1 day here.
  5. Granada (3 days)
  6. Barcelona (5 days)
  7. Figueres (1/2 day)
  8. Sitges (2 days)
  9. Madrid (2 days)

I recommend staying in either Madrid or Barcelona for at least a week. I would have liked to have traveled to Galicia, Valencia or San Sebastian, but I couldn’t make my way in those directions this time. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND SAN SEBASTIAN! One of the most relaxing places I have ever visited in my life. You will also get a chance to sample some of the best tapas in the world also known as “pinxtos”

San Sebastian pictured above (2007)

Madrid:

Definitely a must see. You can go to the world class museums including the Prado, the Thyssen Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia. Also, you can take a afternoon stroll and picnic in the lovely Retiro Park. Spaniards love to picnic and relax here on a beautiful day. You can feed the koi fish in the pond, do some jewelry shopping and see people hanging out with their families or see young couples hopelessly in love. You can go to the famous San Miguel Market and go indulge yourself later with a chocolate con churro at Chocolateria San Gines. Shopping at El Corte Ingles is a must do for every Madrileno. Major places to go check out are Plaza Mayor as well as Puerto Del Sol, Plaza de Oriente, Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and the famous restaurants all throughout Madrid. I recommend the street of Calle Cava Baja located close to trendy La Latina neighborhood.

Make sure to eat Jamon Iberico while in Spain!

Go to the Rastro Market on Sundays if you want to see Madrilenos wheeling and dealing

Sevilla:

Sevilla is sexy, romantic and sultry. You have to absolutely watch Flamenco in Sevilla. I went from Madrid to Sevilla quite easily on the AVE train (high speed railway) I think it took me about 5 hours. They give you headphones and they played Tangled (Disney) in Spanish. Sevilla is one of the best places if not, the most superior of all places to watch Flamenco in all of Spain and in the world. I did my research and found Casa De La Memoria. For those of you that are serious about dance and want to watch the “real” thing, this is the show to go to. I didn’t want to go to a place that served dinner because it takes away from the show. There are too many distractions. This made my heart content and more. Make sure that you journey to the Seville Cathedral and the Alcazar. I didn’t research anything about these two places and was utterly surprised by the beauty of the architecture and the history of Moors in Spain and the Catholic Kings. I don’t want to spoil anything, JUST GO! Shopping, eating and drinking here is fantastic. Meeting a new “love” is possible here. Several people that I have talked to fell in love with their significant others in this town. Make sure you check out the Old Jewish Quarters in Seville. Be ready to get a little lost (that is the fun of it)!

Cordoba:

If you want to know what a local feels like, go to Cordoba. This was the only town in Spain where I actually felt what it was like to “live” in Spain. Most people will go to Cordoba for a day trip to go visit La Mezquita and then leave. I stayed for 2 days and felt how local it was. The disappointing thing for me to experience was Siesta. From about 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. everything shut down. Little stores all closed their doors and took their naps and hung out with family. Well for poor “solo” me, I didn’t have a family to hang out with. Luckily, I walked up to the nearest plaza and hung out at a restaurant for what seemed like hours. Good thing, nobody rushed me! I just drank my tinto de verano and ate my jamon iberico. When I walked back to my hotel I passed by a woman begging for money. She was there daily and would shout out “Hola Guapa” which means “Hello Beautiful”. By the way, she says this to everyone! So it got a little annoying that I had to pass by her and hear the same shout out that I heard 5 minutes ago, or 4 hours ago, or a day ago. There was really no way to escape passing by her. I’m sure I’ll see her again if I visit within the next two years. Make sure you go to La Mezquita, check out the beautiful patios as you stroll around La Juderia. Shopping is supposed to be great at the department stores and if you want to relax, go to a local Hamman Arab Bath. It does get hot in Cordoba, so be prepared. If you want a light snack in the middle of the day go to Bar Santos! They have one of the best tortilla slices that I tasted in Spain!

Granada:

This is a bucket list destination! There are not enough words to describe this place, you have to see it for yourself! It has to be one of the most stunning places I have ever traveled to. It has a magical feel about it and my smile was enough to put the Cheshire Cat to shame. You’ll walk a lot so wear comfortable shoes and depending on the weather, it can get quite hot so make sure you have some water, sunscreen and determination to see everything at La Alhambra. Take the night tour and take the day tour! I spent 3 days in Granada and was totally content. If you want peace of mind, stay up close to the Alhambra, otherwise stay downtown  where there will always be some kind of entertainment. If I was to do it again, I would have stayed downtown so that I could have had better choices to eat. Things do close down relatively earlier if you stay up by La Alhambra. I would have loved to have stayed at the Parador Granada, but 600 Euros is not my cup of tea. For those of you that are not familiar with what a parador is, it is a renovated castle or old building that they have turned into a top notch hotel. Don’t forget to visit the Royal Chapel in Granada where Ferdinand & Isabella are buried.

Taken from La Alhambra on the night tour. This is a snapshot of the El Albaicin

Taken from the Albaicin in the day overlooking La Alhambra

 Barcelona

Going from Granada to Barcelona was like a culture shock. It’s like journeying from the past to the future. Barcelona is like going from the classic Spanish painter of Diego Velasquez to the abstract Salvador Dali. For me, I love modern, but I realized after all my traveling that I’m still a pretty classic and traditional gal. Barcelona moves, pulses and throbs. Granada pauses, flows and rests. Walking down Las Ramblas you already get the sense that you have to clutch your purse a little tighter and stand up a little straighter to look like you know what you are doing. Upon checking in to my hotel, there was a cop bust of 8 potential thieves right in front of my hotel. If you are walking on Las Ramblas, be careful! Make sure you check out La Boqueria Market. I also highly recommend Sagarra for jamon iberico, tapas and tinto de verano. Check out the trendy El Born District for bars, quaint little restaurants and great photo shots of textured buildings. Get up early in the morning and go to La Sagrada Familia. The interior is complete and ethereal. Getting up early beats the long lines and crowds. Make sure to get the headset to listen to the tour. The outside facade will not be completed for many more years. Make sure to check out the side exhibit explaining Gaudi’s inspiration from nature. You will see parallels of his work with the church that mirror everyday things that we take fore granted in nature. Beehives, trees, flowers and fruit all inspired his design for La Sagrada Familia. If you are die hard Gaudi fan, then you must go to Passeig de Gracia (Street of Discord is another name) and also Park Guell. Go take a stroll down Barri Gotic and stand in line to see Pablo Picasso’s museum. The waiting in line was totally worth it. If you go early, you will not have to wait in line like I did. I loved seeing all the stone work buildings and feeling small since the streets were narrow. Lots of cute restaurants! There are so many other things to talk about, but I’ll write another post about Barcelona.

La Boqueria Market is fresh with color and busting activity

Cloister walkway at Park Guell

Interior View of La Sagrada Familia. It was difficult to every detail of the church due to the high ceilings