España en el Temprano 2011 — el Tercer Día, Parte Dos: Moros y Cristianos

If you thought this was going to be a write up of a tasty dish of black beans and white rice, I am sorry to disappoint you (but good on you for your knowledge of Spanish-language peasant food!). This post really is about Moors and Christians in Córdoba.

After arriving via the snazztastic Spanish rail system, we consulted our trusty Frommer’s book for how to get from Córdoba Central to the town’s main attraction: the Mezquita — a UNESCO World Heritage site which has flip-flopped over the last fifteen hundred years between various religions.

The book said to get on a number 3 (or was it 5?) bus from the main train station toward the old city. It doesn’t say where to get off, so we consulted the schematics and maps at the bus stop and picked a stop we thought would put us near the Jewish Quarter (where we planned to seek out an almuerzo and visit the church/mosque/church. But, future visitors to Córdoba and toters of Frommer’s books — please, please don’t take a bus from the main train station. It’s a waste of your time. Just walk it. We spent about an hour on the bus making a huge loop around and through the modern areas of the city, up and down river banks, and it was a colossal waste of time. We gave up eventually and got off the bus when we figured we were pretty close to the old city wall (we guessed correctly) and relied on our (in this case) much trustier Navigon GPS gadget instead. Within 5 minutes we were drooling over the options at Joe’s House in the Jewish Quarter. We found out later we could have skipped the hour bus ride and done a 15-20 minute amble instead.

So, what is the Mezquita? That’s not easy to answer. Paraphrasing Wikipedia here, it was a pagan place of worship, then a Visigoth church, then a mosque as the Moors took over Andalusia, and then a Cathedral again, thanks to the Reconquista. But apparently no one could bare to completely eradicate the craftsmanship and artistry of his predecessor, so there are a lot of elements going on here, sometimes layered on top of each other.

The most striking design aspect here was obviously the prominence of the arches. I was surprised to find that all manner of photography is apparently OK here. I used my flash and tripod, trying to get the best shots. Maybe they knew that it would be (mostly) fruitless.

But there was more to it than that. The Escher-esque reptition (or is Escher’s work rather Moorish instead?) and level of detail in every dimension was astounding.

And still, despite all the Moorish design, there was plenty of grandiose Catholicism, just like you want in your European cathedral. It was quite an experience, and one not to be missed if you’re in the area. Especially if you’ve got Euro-Church Burnout Syndrome (ECBOS), the Mezquita and Córdoba’s old walled city are a great side trip from Seville.

Casa Pepe de la Judería

The Joint

Casa Pepe de la Judería
Taberna — Restaurante
Calle Romero: 3
14001 Córdoba

Reservas: 957 200 744
Reserva de Grupos: 957200 766

Frommer’s steered us toward this restaurant. Well, that, and our tendency to roll iconoclastic, food-wise. I mean on Christmas and Easter, we typically go to an Indian or Kurdish food restaurant (or visit Turkey). So in a city famous for its Islamic and Catholic influences, we had lunch in the Jewish Quarter.

I wouldn’t say that it’s out of our price range, but we did decided to make our lunch here the priciest meal of the visit. It was certainly fancier than any other restaurant we visited in Spain, and I felt kind of underdressed in a tee shirt with cartoon characters on it, even though the rest of the clientele were in jeans and sweaters (no ties or suits or anything like that) for lunch. When we arrived and asked for a table (instead of a seat at the bar, which he also offered us), the maître d’ snorted a bit. Sorry bud, you’re in a tourist zone, recommended in a tourist guide book, and I am…a tourist. With money to give you. If you let me.

But that was really absolutely the only hint (and it was nothing more than that) of unpleasantry. Everything else about this place was lovely. Even the waiter. We negotiated languages first:

¿Habla Vd. ingles?

No, por desgracia.

OK, no hay problema. Geht das mit deutsch?

Lo siento — ¿frances?

¡Ay, qué lástima! OK, probamos nuestro español…una botella del Paso a Paso, por favor.

And we got this lovely wine. So far, so good. Really good. Pretty darn tasty good. And it was the second cheapest one on the wine list at 12€.

I started off with a fantastic gazpacho, mixed on the table in the bowl in front of me from stuff our waiter poured from a champagne flute, a whole cherry tomato, chopped onions, and green peppers. Positively delicious — even the cherry tomato, and for me, that’s saying a lot. My main course was some bonless cut of Sephardic Lamb with sweet & sour sauce, dried fruit and nuts. Very tender and flavorful. Also loved the baby asparagus and the sweet fruit chutney on the side, hiding under my roasted potato.

Sarah started off with a salmonejo — a tangy, tomato-based thick soup with hard-boiled eggs and chopped jamón in it. It was actually too much flavor for an appetizer. She had to call me in to bat clean-up on it. For the main course, she went with Iberian pork in a mushroom sauce.

Dessert was lovely tiramisu and profiterols.

Summing it up: if you’re in Córdoba for lunch, this is a great place to splash out a little. The “Wintergarten” room we ate it was very pleasant — both rustic- and modern-feeling at the same time. Thanks to Frommer’s for the tip on this one.

Hotel Alminar

The Joint

Álvarez Quintero, 52
41004 Sevilla, España
Phone: 954 293 913

I was very pleasantly surprised by this hotel. After looking at several options on, the Hotel Alminar had the combined advantages of great location (one minute walk to the Cathedral), great rating on and TripAdvisor and the right rate. That said, I don’t put that much stock in TripAdvisor reviews, but it’s useful for cross-checking.

Arriving in the early evening, we found the hotel pretty easily and were greeted by the very friendly desk staff, who got us checked in and gave us some good dinner suggestions. The hotel itself is in a small building in a very small street and the “lobby” and breakfast rooms take up as little space as possible. We went up to find out why – the modern room with dark wood ceiling beams and white and beige decor was quite generously proportioned! There was plenty of room for us to take off backpacks and put down our suitcase without jockeying for position. It was even easy to walk around the bed. The amazement continued into the bathroom – a nice, roomy shower cabin, fully enclosed with glass wall and door, a spiffy sink, all made out of one piece of transparent glass and pretty beige and gold tilework. The room also had a good-sized closet with safe and minifridge in it and a small bench, perfect for holding the suitcase. The bed was just okay – two twins pushed together – and the pillows were a little meager. To our delight, though, there was in-room wireless, easy to connect to with a strong signal. The room was immaculate and very comfortable.

The next morning, we went down to the breakfast in the tiny breakfast rooms. Again, given how generous the guest rooms are (and there are some located on the ground floor), I understand why the breakfast area is so small. They manage to provide seating for up to 12 guests at once. There was coffee available from an automat (not adequate), juices, milk, cereal, bread, sliced meats and cheeses, yogurt and fruit. They also had a very strange “toaster” that consisted of a carousel part and a grill-like part, neither of which toasted the bread beyond “tastes sorta stale.” So, we were less than impressed with the hotel’s spread. Luckily for us, it cost guests 6€ each for breakfast, so for the following days, we just opted out.

We asked one of the desk attendants for some help in planning our time in the region and she truly went above and beyond. We told her about our plan to go out to Granada to see the Alhambra, a three-hour train trip each way. In spite of having repairmen there asking her questions, answering the phone and working with a trainee, she took the time to really lay out the pros and cons of our plan and even told us that the information we’d picked up at the tourism office was 3 years out of date! Given our short stay, she suggested Córdoba as an alternative day-trip. It was only one hour each way and, in her opinion, the town itself is nicer than Granada. All in all, she must have spent 20 to 30 minutes with us just going over our options and said over and over again, “Please come to us with any other questions! We are here to help!!”

I would definitely recommend the Alminar to anyone staying in Sevilla. The rate we paid for a double was 90€/night, not including breakfast. Checkout time was noon and the desk staff was happy to hold our bags until we were ready to head for the airport. Another important point – the building is accessible to the disabled. There are no thresholds on the floors, there is an elevator and a gentle ramp at the street door. In Europe, this is a rare find in a medieval core.

Andalucía 2011 — Día Uno

Long has Spain — any part thereof — been on our list of “gotta-go-theres.” We bought a Frommer’s Spain 2009 finally after several years of not making it happen (blame Provence) and still never made any progress in planning until this year finally. Sarah had heard nice things about Sevilla, and thinking about how far inland it is, perhaps the Pescados and Mariscos saturation level would be a little lower (as compared to a directly coastal city like Cádiz or Barcelona, for example).

I don’t remember if an airfare special prompted us to book, or if we selected the weekend (in the dregs of German Winter) and then sought out the airfare, but however we did it, it worked out. It seemed easy while we were planning it, but from start to finish, door-to-door, we ate up a whole day in just getting there. We caught an 8:44 train from Regensburg down to Freising, boarded a flight around 11:00 and changed from one plane to the other in Palma de Mallorca with an effectively negative layover (thanks to a delayed departure from Munich). Seville’s airport seems perfectly manageable and not too chaotic. We found the tourism info booth in the arrivals area and inquired as to the best route into the Casco Antiguo, the part of town containing the Catedrál, the Alcázar Real and our hotel. She was helpful in pointing us toward the bus, showing us on a free inner city map where the bus lets out in relation to our hotel, and even gave us a flyer about reserving tickets to visit the Alhambra in Granada. “Great,” we thought. We wanted to do a side trip to Granada anyways, so it seemed all our bullet points were lining up nicely.

We took the Airport bus into town — about a 30-minute trip for a very reasonable 2,40€ per person. After a little initial kerfuffle about in which direction to head (I am still astonished that not all maps are printed with North towards the top), Sarah’s excellent sense of direction prevailed and we got to the hotel just as the sprinkles started coming down.

We found our hotel, just spitting distance from the Cathedral, checked in, and started wondering what to do next. So we headed downstairs and tried our luck with the hotel staff. The guy on duty recommended the Bar Estrella, practically just around the corner, and that was a great tip.