Posted by: vlibrizzi | July 12, 2009

Summer Road Trip: Soaking up the Sunflower Sun in Cordoba, Arcos, and Carmona

Last weekend when we were staying in San Sebastian, the friendly hotel owner asked us where we would go next on our trip. We laid out our itinerary for her and when we got to Andalucia (the southern most region of Spain), she gasped, and asked in broken English, “Why you go there? It’s so hot…you’re gonna die!”

Well, now I can’t say we weren’t forewarned. 

As we drove south yesterday from Madrid, we watched as Francois’ (now nicknamed Francisco since we’re in Spain after all) temperature gauge slowly climbed from a cool 29 degrees celcius (about 85 in Fahrenheit) to up to 40 degrees (which is over 105!) But, as they say about all desert-like places….it’s a dry heat. 🙂

Nevertheless, the temperature has not halted our rapid-fire touring pace. No way. 

DSC_0509Before leaving Madrid, we went to a great Spanish-style musical/opera called Zarzuela. The particular opera we saw was called La Calesera and from what we understood (our Spanish is not what it used to be…but we’re trying to get better) the show was about a political revolutionary of the early 1800s who gets arrested by the king’s men, and the two women who love him and try to help him escape. You can see me in front of the theater in the photo to the left…and in the photo below, you can see a photo that C. took inside the opera house before the show.













Then, yesterday we spent the morning and early afternoon in Madrid visiting the Reina Sofia modern art museum. The Reina Sofia’s claim to fame is Picasso’s Guernica…and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

Besides being an utterly enormous and moving canvas, the museum does a really nice job of leading you up to their prized possession. They have multiple rooms filled with drafts of his for the painting and of background information about the bombing of Guernica. It was my kind of exhibit…educational and profoundly moving.  




After visiting the Reina Sofia, we grabbed a quick tapas lunch at a bar near the museum called Dos Gatos. We shared a tapas sampler of shrimp tapas, tuna empanadas, skewered olives, smoked salmon with blue cheese tapas, and tomato, brie, and anchovy tapas. And, of course, we washed it all down with cool cervezas. 

We were ready for the road. So we turned on our i-trip to listen to our driving playlist that C. made before we left (as well as some amazing This American Life podcasts) and we drove the 4.5 hour trip south to Cordoba.

Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel…directly across from the Mezquita. We got just a bit lost trying to find a place to park our car, but then once we found a spot for Francois/Francisco, we stopped for a drink at a great outside bar. By then, the sun was going down, it was getting a bit cooler, and the town was waking up. 





Then, we walked to the new part of town to go to a great steak restaurant called El Buey y el Fuego and shared a salad and some fabulous samorillo steak. After our dinner, we went back to the outside bar and sat for a few more hours chatting and planning the next few days of our trip. 








DSC_0528We woke up early this morning to go to mass at the cathedral in the Mezquita (photographed above). The site once housed a Visigothic Christian church, which was leveled by the Moors to build a mosque in the 8th century, and then was turned into a Catholic church when the Catholic king of Spain kicked the Muslims out in the 16th century. Instead of knocking down the mosque, the Spanish king decided to build a church inside the Mezquita. So, it is a great example of two beautiful religious buildings in one. 

Before mass, we walked around the interior patio called the Patio de las Naranjas and admired the beautiful orange and palm trees (you can see a photo of me in the patio on the left).

DSC_0534Then, we entered the building and were floored by the beautiful red and white columns topped with double arches. See photo of arches to the left. There are 850 columns in the former mosque all with white and red double arches. Just walking through the building, one could imagine the more than 20,000 Muslims with outspread prayer rugs who could be praying here at a time, and the thousands of Christians who have prayed here over the years too.






Besides the church in the center of the building, the most beautiful aspect of the Mezquita is the Mihrab, the mosque’s equivalent of a high altar where the Imam reads from the Quran. Three-thousand pounds of multicolored glass cubes fill the walls and the domes.  I’ve attached a photo we took of the Mihrab to the left. Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t show the details in the walls, but it gives you a sense of how beautiful this area is.









After visiting the Mezquita, we squeezed our way through the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter of town. Interestingly, the Mezquita is in the Jewish Quarter so it is a Catholic church inside a former mosque inside a Jewish neighborhood. Pretty cool!

We went to a former synagogue…one of the three remaining synagogues from the time in Spain before 1492 (when Jews were expelled from Spain).

Then, we headed back to our hotel, took one final photo of the Mezquita from outside (photo to the left), and got in our car to head to Argos…a town even further south. 

DSC_0589Arcos, photo to the left, is a small, typical white hill town of Andalucia. The streets are narrow, so as to provide optimal shade on days like today when it hit 105 degrees, the buildings are all white, and the sky is bright blue. The town reminded us of Mykonos, the Greek island we visited last summer…except this town is landlocked…and well, Mykonos is an island with a cool breeze. 

Nevertheless, we endured the heat and took a walking tour of the town that our guidebook recommended. 




In this photo you can see the town church under a beautiful white arch.












And in this photo of me you can see the view from the top of town. According to our guidebook, “The people of Argos boast that only they see the backs of birds as they fly” because the town is so high up on a cliff. 







After an hour of walking through the town though, we were very hot, and needed to head to our hotel in Carmona to take a dip in the pool. 

On the way, we were struck by the beautiful sunflower fields lining the road. We pulled over and snapped a few photos of the characteristically Andalucian sunflowers as we drove on to Carmona. 






The photo to the left is one that I particularly love from today for its symbolism. I think of the two sunflowers in the foreground as C. and me soaking up the rays of southern Spain.

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