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Trip Report Chapter 5 Dos Hermanas on a train in Spain - Castanets in Cordoba

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Castanets in Cordoba…
We bid a fond farewell to beautiful Seville then take the short 1 hour train trip to Cordoba…the taxi delivers us through the rubik’s cube of streets and laneways to our apartment in a quiet area a short walk away from the mayem around the Mesquita…
The apartment is very modern and comfy with it’s own set of ruins in the middle of the complex. We have a tiny spiral staircase that leads up to a terrace on the roof that may be handy for pre dinner drinks when the sun goes down if Rosie can brave the little stairs, she says they look scary…
First impressions Cordoba lacks the instant appeal of Seville, but we will explore the ‘must sees’ and see if the rest of the city can redeem itself and will reserve judgement for now…a handy little supermarket is across the street and we stock up on supplies before setting off for the main area of the Juderia near the Mesquita.
Apparently we have hit the jackpot as the ‘Feria’ is on, a massive event on the Cordoba calendar held a distance away over 2 bridges. As we walk the windy streets, there is a lack of open air cafes and we soon sort out that they are hidden away behind doors in shady patios inside all decked out with greenery and dozens of pots of bright geraniums. As we walk towards the Mesquita the sun beats down and I realise that foolishly I have left my hat behind and Rosie is also naked without her visor…We are told at the tourist information centre that there is a flamenco demonstration on at 230pm at the fieta so set off for the fairgrounds. We cross the wide and muddy river over a roman bridge. It’s a long trek and there are people arriving but we realise that the party is just getting started…all the women are out in their finery, the typical flamenco costumes in every colour and pattern and adorned with yards and yards of frills. There’s clearly a competition as to who wears the biggest rose  At this point our heads are baking and we are sold cheap panama hats for only 1 euro, great investment…As we start to walk up through the city of massive marquees a couple of blokes decked out in yellow are handing out free lemon flavoured beer…and Rosie decides this is her new favourite midday drink. There are obviously parties of people congregating to eat in the tents and are lubricated enough to start some Spanish grooving. Amongst them are even large groups of menopausal nonnas poured into the fancy costumes and some of them all matching..  We make the long dusty walk to the end of the grounds to find the location of the flamenco demonstration. At least the area facing the stage is well shaded and cool. Rosie tries to order a glass of the delicious lemon-beer but the waiter doesn’t understand her Spanish or the picture she took on her phone and she ends up gagging over a pint of the local lager…she’s not a convert to the pale ale…
Groups of beautifully dressed kids in costume are running about everywhere preparing to put on a display…looks like it’s a presentation from a flamenco dancing school. There are even a couple of babies dressed up in frills, their outfits complete with mini heels and earrings. The kids put on a great show from the kinder age to the seniors who dance with the teacher…the seniors are wearing dresses with a heavy train of frills, so heavy they carry the train over their shoulder…As they dance they expertly kick out the train and flick it around sending up great clouds of dust as they do. Their expressive hands and sensuous movements tell the story. It’s a fun thing to see. It’s a bit of a shame we are here so early, the place will be all lit up late in the evening but the ‘feria’ is on all week so we can pay another visit if we want…time is moving on, it’s after 4 and we still haven’t eaten. We would rather choose a nice place to eat in the Juderia so we take the long walk back to relax over a late lunch only to find as we finally locate our restaurant of choice, that it’s closing time!! Crap…we walk the plaza near home and end up at small ‘bocadillo’ (sandwich) place that is open all day and the mini baguettes at this stage taste like gourmet food all washed down with a pint of the lemon beer so we are calling that lunch at 5pm…just as well as we won’t be eating dinner before 830pm when the restaurants reopen.. 

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    Hey I'm really enjoying this too. Your descriptive writing is excellent, but could you please just add the new chapter to the previous trip report rather than starting a new one ? It will be much easier to follow for those just reading, (and easier to find just one thread for people researching).

    So good to hear you're managing the hermana, I have one of those.....

    Thanks !

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    Hola! Just stumbled onto your most enjoyable ramble through Spain.

    I started at this chapter, Cordoba grabbing my attention as I also spent a couple of days there. Your description of a "couple of blokes" tweaked my radar, so I scuttled back to confirm my suspicion of a couple of fellow Aussies out & about in the hermoso pais de Espana!

    Thanks for taking the time to take us along with you - It's great to renew memories (including the 20c drop in temperature overnight!).

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    CHAPTER 6 DOS HERMANAS ON A TRAIN IN SPAIN - MESMERIZED BY THE MESQUITA...

    Mesmerized by the Mesquita…
    Delicious to toast a piece of crusty baguette with jam this morning and enjoy a cup of tea as a simple breaky in our comfy apartment…
    Disappointed when we were ready to meet under the blue umbrella this morning in the main square for our free walking tour only to be turned away because we were the only 2 english speakers who had fronted and they won’t run the tour just for 2 of us, has to be a minimum of 4…don’t know that we wanted to be competing to hear amongst a throng of rambunctious school kids on excursion whose teachers are negotiating with the tour guides to offload their responsibilities and while the talks take place the kids are running amuck and are trying out their limited English on us and hopping around like kangaroos…
    The cancelled tour option now leaves a void in my carefully scheduled itinerary, but no option but to wander down and move on to the next on the agenda, the visit to the Mesquita…retrace yesterday’s steps and wind down into the ancient Juderia quarter, and the massive bell tower of this icon looms into view…first built around 785 as one of the earliest Islamic places of worship out of recycled bits and pieces from the discarded Roman temple and other piles of Roman columns lying around all over Spain….the hypostyle arcaded hall is breathtakingly impressive and vast supported by 856 columns of granite, onyx, marble and jasper and originally housed 4000 worshippers and over time was extended until today the vast expanse of floor space can accommodate 40,000 on their knees..the catholics eventually took possession in the 1200’s and redecorated with all the usual gilt, carving, sculpture, pomp and ceremony, even adding little crosses to the large Moorish lamps that hang from the long aisles of columns…since the 2000s the Muslims have tried to negotiate with the catholics to allow them to worship in the sacred space side by side, but the Vatican is strongly opposed and I guess possession becomes 9 tenths of the law in this century… It’s beautifully dim and peaceful inside…Rosie and I wander around with our audio guides,,,,I am challenged to say the least, trying to juggle the audio, the map, the camera and my glasses…LOL.. seriously, I am better to ditch the guide and just do a little reading before I arrive,,,,the details get lost in the vastness of complicated history…speaking of pictures…see if you can see a conspicuous ‘visor’ in the background of the picture of the archeological relics case…well that’s ‘Wally’, a la, the sister…LOL We now play ‘Wheres Wally’ at the end of the day when I am reviewing the film…the sister, despite claiming to be so camera shy, often ends up being featured in every frame! She has learnt to stand back now if I pause to ‘click and shoot’, as when she powers ahead of me, she becomes the subject material…seriously so funny, we have laughed and laughed…
    The catholic additions to the hallowed hallways are spectacular, namely the choir space and the altar, my rudimentary photography just can’t do it justice…all Mesquita’d out, we leave through the serene orange courtyard, peaceful and serenaded by tinkling fountains…as an extra tour bonus, I motivate Rosie to the left beyond the Alcazar and stables to a quiet barro of white washed houses where many of the famous ‘patios’ of the current festival are proported to be on show…cobble stoned streets and cool and brightly coloured gardens hidden behind the high walls…the sun is beating down outside and you can’t imagine the heat of the summer…the Spanyards know how to get it right with closed shady spaces, tiled walls and floors, buildings built so close together to afford maximum shade….
    End up at a quiet space set apart from the busy touristy area at a little ‘taberna’ recommended by the travel writer ‘Rick Steeves’ for lunch….the grumpy waiter is reluctant to even offer us a menu, but we finally win him over with our increasingly fluent Spanish aided by Rosie’s phone ap…unfortunately it only translates about a 6th of the words on the menu…(we REALLY need you here Rob Harvey!!!) The tiny tastes for lunch,,,,’pisto’ – (ratatouille), Spanish omelette (potato frittata) and a local Spanish stew are predictably good, and the waiter is delighted with our response to his videls and obliges with a photo op….
    Time for siesta and I will take a nap today, not too many hours of sleep last night (we ordered dinner at 10pm)….when I reviewed Rick Steeve’s ‘Spain’ today, he suggests that the Alcazar here is hardly worth a look….as I read aloud, the sister can hardly contain her glee….until, as a penalty, I suggest that in the absence of a visit to the Alcazar here, we are off to an Andalucian horseriding display in the grounds of the castle…the smile has just disappeared off her face….
    We set off for the night’s entertainment and I am refreshed after a mini nap…I foolishly take charge of the map and take Rosie on a Jane Fonda power walk ending up nowhere near the Royal Stables where the horses are to appear…she takes charge and we finally reach the gates, lining up with the other touristos, the gates open at 8pm…we seat ourselves in the stand around the arena…the ambience of the ancient walls of the stable area around the mini parade ground is a perfect backdrop as the sun goes down…the regal beasts prance out on the grounds, riders all in heritage costumes…the horses are put through their paces, prancing and dancing as the crowd claps and cheers…Rosie is yawning after the first 30 minutes, but it’s really a pleasant relaxing hour and a glimpse into an era long gone when horseflesh was revered and she did opt for the horse show over the alcazar…
    Not trusting any of the tourist traps near the Mesquita and being turned away from some tempting establishments that are already full, we opt for a late dinner at the taberna we feasted at last night near home..the tempura aubergine drizzled with honey, the pork cheek and fresh spinach and mushroom salad didn’t disappoint and tonight a light dish of cod and the same spinach salad is satisfying at 10pm…back at the ranch, Rosie is on coffee duty so I can maximise typing time…we need to make a plan for our last day in Cordoba tomorrow….great coffee Rosie, unfortunately this city seems to be devoid of churros and having withdrawal symptoms….hoping to find another source somewhere in Spain!!!!

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    A couple of quick comments:

    1) please use paragraph breaks (you need to do a double return to get a break). These long entries are hard to read.

    2) It is sort of late now since you are already up to 5 installments - but generally TRs are much easier to follow if they are all on the same thread. Otherwise folks have to keep skipping around and clicking on your screen name to find other parts of it.

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    CHAPTER 7 GRANADA AND THE AMAZING ALHUMBRA...

    The Amazing Alhambra…
    I don’t know how many times I have spelt ‘Alhambra’ incorrectly in my writing, but that’s where we are headed today…I have religiously taken note of the travel community’s experienced suggestions that tickets MUST be pre-purchased or you can end up lined up at some hideously early time of the morning and wait for hours, or worse, you can end up missing out on the ‘must see’ experience in Granada altogether as only a certain number of visitors are permitted per day…8,000.. so I am led to believe…to be safe have pre purchased guided tour…

    We taxi it to the Visitor’s centre, the distance as the crow flies is not that far, but the incline up to the Alhambra would challenge the most ambitious Tour de France competitors and our joints need to be paced for the rest of Spain…it’s a lengthy trip, the cabbie having to navigate through one way streets through the labyrinth of the Albayzin district…arrive in plenty of time and congregate with the 1000’s of others to register, be issued with radio frequency devices so that we can hear our guide in the moshpit inside and then we join the ‘english speaking’ group….what a relief, we are over hearing every commentary in both languages. Our young tour guide starts taking us through the vast spaces of this ‘city within a city and imagination is cast back into far gone times of sultans and kings…’ The Alhambra is a palace/fortress complex built by the Moors in the 1st century, developed for a long line of Islamic emirs before being commandeered by the Catholic requisition in the 1400’s…the city is triple walled by a military fortress, amazing view from the top over the Granada city, the Albayzin quarter and the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. Interesting to look down and see the remaining foundations of the workforce community that kept the palace humming…interlocking tiny houses like a jigsaw puzzle with internal courtyard and kitchen. We move through reception courtyards on the way to the throne room…goodness knows the protocol you had to endure to seek an audience with the Sultan….the gardens are cool and inviting, leafy, colourful and beautifully manicured…maiden hair fern cascading out of ancient stone walls….the interiors are sparse and cool, decorated in typical Moorish embellishments, carved Arabic letters, geometrical designs featuring flowers and fruit and the blue, ochre and orange ceramic tiles laboriously laid mile by mile….’jealousy windows’ are Arabic style arches with complex wooden patterned lattice, allowing those inside the palace to look out, but no peeping toms to look in…the ‘holiday shack’ is a pretty palace only metres from the main palace,,,nice to be so bored you would make a big deal of moving for short periods of time to another house on the same block….

    It’s difficult to snap photos as we are herded with so many other sheep from one area to the other.,,,so I apologise for photo quality…have ‘borrowed’ the snap of the Alhambra at night because we did not have a moon, and the shot of the expanse of palace inside as my basic Lumix is not up to anything so sophisticated…still, it is an amazing spectacle worth the visit and interesting to see architechture different from the gothic and renaissance periods so prevalent in the rest of Europe.

    A 3 hour visit and we are deposited by our guide on another side of the walled city and the sister’s GPS has cracked it…all I know is, I can’t force her up another hill, it will get ugly….so I choose the ‘downhill’ option praying we end up at some location that serves lunch,,, at 230pm tummy’s are growling after the earlyish breakfast of a piece of squirrelled away breadstick from Kiki’s bar last night.  The road leads us into the main square, Rosie is accosted by the gypsies that force sprays of rosemary in your face, demanding money and short of offering 5 euros you’ll have bad luck…the gypsy mamma has met her match though and Rosie relays a message in the face of that woman that she won’t soon forget and she backs off muttering and chanting….

    We settle for street food near the city square, with an expectation that with the Arabic influence here, a kebab could be special…they didn’t disappoint…wonderful juicy morsels of marinated chicken stuffed into fresh pita pockets with lots of salad, tomato, corn, lettuce, olives and carrot…so delicious, need audio… Back on the little red bus, and time for a rest…the sister naps while I type,,,I won’t risk a sleepless night before our big event in Ronda tomorrow..

    I have booked dinner tonight at a trip advisor favourite at a terrace with a stunning view of the Alhambra, a fitting end to our Granada excursion…hoping the menu helps to motivate the sister up a few more hills….

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    The flamenco dancers' "train of frills" is called bata de cola. Here the most cutting edge female flamenco dancer on the current scene Rocío Molina does a traditional rondeña in the famous Ronda bullring, showing some bata de cola technique as easy as breathing in and out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQcJC72NTsc

    Three generations of the finest bailaoras Belén Maya (1966), Rocío Molina (1984) and Merche Esmeralda (1947) in a bata de cola Fin de fiesta of "Mujeres" (Women) in Teatro Villamarta in Jerez a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRrn-RdzLgQ

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    Chapter 8 The Ronda Romantica...

    Ronda Romantica…
    The slow 3 hour train from Granada winds it’s way through some scenic countryside,,,the Andalucian pastureland is a patchwork of shades of green sprinkled here and there with carpets of bright red poppies…housing is sparse, just a few ‘renovators delights’, farmhouses that have seen better days with caved in rooves…

    Finally arrive at Ronda and grab the only cab at the station that delivers us through some steep and windy streets and laneways to the Parador, our home for the night…’Paradors’ are prestigious Spanish properties converted to hotels in spectacular environs so we have splashed to experience this one in Ronda, an old town hall that is precariously perched on the edge of the Ronda gorge and the Puerto Neuvo…an explosion of colour and mayhem greets us in the streets outside as locals from near and far have congregated to celebrate the festia ‘Ronda Romantica’ celebrating a past era when rebellious bandilleros (bandits) inhabited the surrounding hills and became guerrilla warriors against Napoleonic invasion in the early 19th century. Ronda’s suffered heavy losses at that time and the deeds of the Ronda Bandilleros have inspired many a writer romanticising this bloody time in Ronda’s history…any way, any excuse for a party in this part of the world…

    It’s an extravaganza of costuming and colour as the whole population are out in period dress, the men, the women, the babies and even the horses are dressed up to the nines with fringing, multi-coloured pompoms and jangling brass….ooo ahh…We push through the crowds that are revelling in the moment, the beer is going down fast…we can’t help but turn heads at whole families that pause for photo ops, the women with elegant dresses, tiny boots, funny flying saucer hats and snoods of pompom bobbles alongside the men either dressed as bandits with headscarves and brandishing pistols or elegant frock coats and top hats….in the main square, historical scenes are being re-inacted along with canon fire and the reverberation of muskets can be heard all over the town…my Lumix is going mad…

    Pausing for a drink to take it all in, I am feeling seriously underdressed and tie my tasselled scarf around my head hoping to blend a little…the sister’s dilapidated visor looks ridiculously out of place…the sun is out and Rosie is now getting a taste for beer mixed with Solo  while my tastes remain more cultivated…wandering on, we pause to watch a Spanish singing group and the onlookers get caught up in the moment, one ageing bloke bursts into some slick Flamenco moves and an older lady gets into the groove, shaking all over, still proving she’s got what it takes. 

    We are booked for dinner at the Parador at 9pm, the sister returns to the hotel to get ready and I take the opportunity of another 45 minutes to do some serious hill walking around the old quarter and take a few more shots down the gorge and the ancient cobblestoned streets…dinner was ‘nice’ but not outstanding…however nice flavours, a small plate of artistic tapas to begin with and some excellent Iberian pork for main…dessert, forgettable…not up to par for fine dining…the sister is exhausted and we are longing for bed,,,,

    A good sleep and the day dawns with bright sunshine and that amazing view from our window…the view of the gorge with the ‘Pueblos Blancos’ (white houses) is a picture I will never forget,,, the bridge was historically used as a prison and in bloodier times people were actually thrown live down the 390 feet chasm to meet their certain deaths splattered on the vicious rocks below…

    This morning a leisurely buffet breakfast that will suffice for lunch as well and I am delighted to see a fresh plate of my favourite churros but sadly minus the chocolate sauce…some indulgent mamma lets her porky 5 year old help herself to TEN on her plate while I piously select just 2,,,well maybe 3…

    We are not fans of the bullfighting concept here and won’t be attending such an event, but the sister is keen to view the famous bullring, one that Ronda is famous for and just down the street…the earlier sunshine has belied the weather that is about to turn and the dark grey clouds blanket the sky and thunder is rolling in the adjacent hills…the rain starts as we almost finish our visit to the bullring, along with throngs of ‘Ken and Ruth’ bus tours…the expensive entry allows viewing of the ring, the bullpens and an interesting museum of flamboyant matador costumes, brightly coloured boleros (chaquetilla) , heavily braided and spangled, and ornately embroidered capes, and costumes and livery for horses. There is a display of weaponry, of the most interest, cases of duelling pistols from the ‘Romantic’ period when life was cheap and silly males took one another’s lives at 50 paces over trivial squabbles in the name of ‘honour’…

    The rain pelts now in earnest, such a shame, and we are grateful that we were able to experience the spectacle of the festia yesterday afternoon in the sunshine…the busloads of ageing tourists now are wrapped in an assortment of coloured plastic and huddling under umbrellas…we dodge the rain back to the comfort of the parador and it’s scenic balcony…the veil of rain is so thick you can now hardly see the surrounding hills and the sister is looking sad, shivering with cold, her visor adds no warmth to her wardrobe. The orange fleece now badly in need of a wash makes another appearance…I am praying that the rain eases off as I was hopeful of taking the stairs to the small prison about halfway down the bridge for a few more snaps but it would be precarious to do so in such wet conditions…

    The weather doesn’t look as though it is going to let up, but we still have a few hours here before a later departure at 450pm and it would be disappointing not to be able to explore a little further. As the rain eases, I put on the flimsy poncho and brave the elements, the sister contents herself with her book…it’s a great view from the ‘prison’ section of the bridge and I can now see waterfalls cascading further down the gorge…people are enjoying lunch perched right out on terrace restaurants that flank the ravine. By the time I take the stairs back up to the top, the sun is out and it looks like the worst of the rain is over and I go back to collect Rosie for another walk up the charming streets…we browse the shops and take the road I took last night that ribbons on the opposite side of the gorge to the Parador…so many breathtaking scenes, so hard to describe adequately in type…we browse the shops, stop for coffee and then return to the Parador to collect our cases for the train. Loving the train journeys, such an easy way to travel and I can type while we move on to our next destination.  So now, 2 hours to Malaga, then change for a short 45 min bus trip and we will arrive at Nerja and the beach. 

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