What? Yes, I said love.
For each day that goes by, life gets better here in Cordoba. After a few months of feeling unsettled, I think I’ve finally discovered my Cordoba calling (drum roll please). I knew there was a reason I should be here, just why, I wasn’t quite sure. I knew it was just all about giving it a chance. And now I don’t want to leave. At least, I am not ready to yet.
In thinking about the road I took to get here, there are a few things that captured me right away and have kept me here since, not to mention, more than a few discoveries made along the way – so I thought I’d post a blog about the ten things I love about Cordoba (so far).
Most people would rank the Mezquita as number 1 on the list, that is, the Cathedral and former Great Mosque of Cordoba. Don’t worry; I’m not that cliché. Originally a pagan temple and today, a World Heritage Site, the sacred, Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (in English, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption), or simply, the Mezquita, is beautiful without a doubt, don’t get me wrong. But it’s like saying “come to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower” (ok so for some people this is entirely feasible, so whatever floats your boat), or maybe more apt, “come to New Zealand to look at lots of sheep” (if I had a penny…). Believe me, like most places you visit, there is much more to Cordoba than meets the eye.
So here it is (in no particular order as that would be unfair):
1. The weather
I’m sorry but it just cannot be denied a prime spot in the top ten and it’s not that I mean to make everyone at home jealous (ok well maybe just a little bit), but you couldn’t really ask for much better. I can count the amount of times it has rained here on one hand since my arrival in November. Throughout winter, it has been chilly (at times, -3 in the early morning) but yet never lacking in endless blue skies. It’s mid-March here right now and yesterday our temperatures reached an impressive 28 degrees! I can’t possibly complain about that. And with the sun shining bright, it’s hard not to feel happy.
However, before I paint this picture too rosy, I am told that summer here in Cordoba is unbearable. I can believe it too. It is not uncommon for temperatures to soar into the mid-forties, and it is true that I have yet to experience such heat. But for now, and throughout the months of April and May, it sounds as though I am in for even more of this delightful climate. And besides, it’s likely I will be doing what everyone does at the peak of summer in Cordoba and evacuating to the coast. Sounds like a good excuse if you ask me.
2. The salmorejo
Ok and the ham. It’s true. I am a convert. I love cold soup and raw meat. Salmorejo is a refreshing cold soup made mainly of tomato, garlic and olive oil. It’s indispensable on a hot day. And don’t knock it ‘til you try it. Equally as exquisite is jamón serrano, mountain-cured ham. Cured ham can be very good to begin with, if ever you’ve tried it, but Andalucia has some special acorn-loving pigs, a native breed called Iberico who produce the finest ham of them all. Slap a bit of this atop a freshly toasted baguette with olive oil and pureed tomatoes and you have a breakfast made in heaven. ¡Qué rico!
3. The people
There’s not much to say here except that the people of Cordoba are sunny, lively, happy and for the most part, very friendly. Cordoba is one of those places blessed to have not been struck by a severe case of tourist fatigue that some of Cordoba’s larger counterparts have such as Seville and Barcelona. Or even Paris or Rome. The tourists do come here in droves during the warmer months (April – May) but generally the people here make the time of day for you. When living in a place, it makes for the perfect situation to try to integrate, learn a language and get to make new friends. If I had chosen somewhere else to settle, I am determined my Spanish wouldn’t be improving at anyway near this rate. But do be warned, while this is a good thing for someone like me who is keen on learning the language, if you’re a novice, you should at least be prepared to brush up on the basics. The people here really don’t speak English.
4. The teterías
Think: large salon filled with low-lying tables, sofas and lots and lots of cushions. Think: Arabic music and Moroccan décor. Most of these are found in the Judería (the Jewish Quarter) and complement the atmosphere of the place. You can come here to unwind, take delicious tea, Arabic sweets and of course, if in the mood, maybe a little shisha. The best place to come if you wish to live and breathe the essence of Moorish Spain.
5. The river
I love to take a stroll along the Guadalquivir. Along the banks, I like to look out for the Mills of the Guadalquivir, Muslim era buildings that took advantage of the water to grind flour – they’re gorgeous. The grassy banks on the far side offer the perfect spot for a picnic. But by far the most beautiful spot of all is the Roman Bridge, which connects the area of Campo de la Verdad to the area surrounding the famed Mezquita. I hear it was the only bridge in the city for over twenty centuries, so it is a pretty important place for the city. It was originally built in the 1st century BC, during the period of Roman rule in Cordoba. It is now made of stone, and has 16 beautiful arches. This is like La Rambla of Barcelona. You can expect to find street performers and pick-pocketers here but seriously, as long as you have your wits about you, you’ll find it’s stunning and worth a visit.
6. The sierra
Las Sierras de Córdoba, is a geographical zone surrounding Cordoba. It’s mountains, valleys and picturesque countryside that you don’t expect to find so close to the city. A mere 20-minute bus journey will take you to the heart of it all. You could easily spend a day wandering the paths and tracks in the area and marveling at it all. Home to impressive flora and fauna, stunning waterways and caves, this is a totally different side to the province you couldn’t possibly appreciate was there if you didn’t look. Take a trip, chances are you’ll see a wild horse too!
7. The historic quarter
This is the second largest Old town in Europe, the largest urban area in the world according to UNESCO World Heritage. I can attest to this (in case you were in any doubt), proportionately speaking, it really is large. And now I live in it! I love it, it captures the essence of the city – ancient, filled with tradition and representing an amalgamation of cultures that have grown to become one. This is where you will find the Mezquita, and the area surrounding this is the Jewish quarter. It consists of many tiny little streets, and with time on your hands, these can be a lot of fun to explore. It is quintessentially Spanish, with its whitewashed walls and a lick of gold here and there. Just precious.
8. The squares
My two favourites are:
The Plaza de las Tendillas, the most central square in town with its clock that sounds like a guitar (you don’t know how long it took me to figure this out! I thought it was a slightly aloof homeless man who I often see standing in the square with his duke box-come-amplifier, repeatedly performing three chords of a song like some kind one trick wonder).
The Plaza de la Corredera where they used to hold bullfights in 17th century and is now home to scores of fantastic outdoor tapas bars. This is also where the Medieval Festival takes place in February. The streets surrounding the plaza are transported back in time with performers and traditional medieval food.
9. The fiestas and folklore
What would Cordoba be without tradition? As summer approaches, there is a festive atmosphere building. Everyone has come out of hibernation to enjoy the sunshine, eat tapas and drink beer in the sun. And the stalls have gone up in the main square in preparation for Easter week, known as Semana Santa. This is a very important time for the people of Cordoba. Some 32 processions with elaborate pictures and figures of Saints pass through the heart of the city, and people pay good money year round to secure seats to get the best view of it. The processions are accompanied by the Nazarenos, men in typical gowns with pointed-hoods that cover the face… along with thousands of following people. I will be in Alicante during Semana Santa – but given my house is a stone’s throw from Tendillas, this is probably a good thing or I’d never be able to get out!
Then all throughout May, there are festivals to look forward to. From the 5th to the 12th, there is a festival where private patios are opened to the public and adorned with flowers, all of them competing for the best. And in the last week of May, there’s the Feria de Cordoba, the festival of Flamenco music and dance. I can’t wait to be here for it.
10. It’s size.
Interestingly this is what I hated about the place at first. It was too small. Not enough happening. But now I think it’s perfect. Not too big, not too small, with plenty going on if you just know where to look for it. It’s big enough to meet new people but not too big that you are completely anonymous. I like that. No, I love it.