Spain

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The Mezquita of Cordoba

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I grab every opportunity to hop on high-speed trains whenever I can and on a whim this morning, took the AVE high Cordoba from Sevilla Santa Justa (a mere 45 minutes that covers 150 km) to see the Mezquita – only to find out after a trek of 20 minutes from the Cordoba station to the old town that the Cathedral/Mosque would only be open to visitors from 3.30 pm – 7 pm.

Today is some kind of Catholic holiday (the woman at the tourist office found it way too difficult to explain what kind of holiday they were celebrating and thus left it as that), and elaborate processions/services were underway.

Hanging around the area however, does have its benefits.

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I fully expected to see a grand procession coming out of the cathedral, complete with suited gentlemen, and military men bearing flags. What I did not expect was the sudden surge of the crowd at 11am or so to shove their way into the Mezquita for some kind of service. Carried with the tide of the pushing and shoving elderly, it appears that I got in after all – without needing to pay for the 8 Euro entry fee – along with a few hundred other curious tourists.

As with Granada’s La Alhambra, the Mezquita’s interior is both an intoxicating mix of moorish and christian architecture – elegant islamic arches and then an altar in front on which hangs all forms of statues of the blessed virgin, a reminder as well of an age when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in an unimaginable clash of cultures. Intended as a mosque, the Mezquita’s construction began in 785 A.D., and would go on for another few centuries until extensions like the orange tree courtyard and the outer naves gave the Mezquita its current dimensions today. It was only when Ferdinand III recaptured Cordoba in 1236 was the mosque used as a cathedral where it remains today.

Still, there wasn’t time to dally.

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I wandered surreptitiously around the corridors and gawked at its red-and-white-coloured giant arches that rested on 856 columns, marvelled quietly and then hightailed it out of there before a priest could throw me out.

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DestinationsEuropeSpainWestern Europe

Heat and Unrestrained Passion in Winter

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I bade Grenada goodbye at an early hour for a 3-hour bus ride to Sevilla and found Pension Cordoba with relative difficulty, and it is amazing what desperation can lead one to say despite an immensely flawed command of the language. It is a lovely hostal in a quiet side street, and is in itself, a renovated home, with a colourfully central, square patio. The owners’ West-highland terrier Otto (though ageing and quiet by now) sniffs and inspects the guests as a detective would.

I have 3 days here, and will instead spend hopefully, the whole of tomorrow in Cordoba, yet another Moorish stronghold that houses the Mesquita. The argument begins when people cannot agree upon which city forms the heart of Andalucia.

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Orientation around its twisted streets became a chore, and a heart-pumping experience when one gets lost in nightfall. But I accidentally wandered into El Centro, the haphazard, modern pedestrian centre in which designer stores sit next to run-down hardware shops and pizzarias. Is it any wonder that the hoards are drawn to them?

And have I mentioned that the fashion is amazing? Though housebrands such as Zara and Mango carry near un-wearable apparel back home (no apologies made to fashion aficionados and trend-setters), some look remarkably decent over here. There is of course, a deceiving price tag that convinces you the piece of garment is really half the amount that needs to be paid.

I watched a Flamenco show earlier, in an 18th century square courtyard that doubles up as an exhibition/cultural hall during the day and when the proprietor feels like it. But at night, it is appropriately transformed into a soiree-esque small but simple stage (hollow for stomps and tap sounds) with candles and flowers.

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Rooted in the wandering brusqueness of the Roma-people, the flamenco up close is more roughly hewn and spontaneous than I thought, my only measly experience with it being the highly stylised Firedance. Its history is more complicated to recite, save to say that its scales resemble Arabic music rather closely.

Rhythmic taps of the shoes, snapping fingers, handclaps, interspersed with yells of “ole” and hard, fast turns characterised that hour-long performance, and…amidst the work of the nimble fingers, the bell of the cathedral sounded, earning a grimace from the audience, and a wry chuckle from the guitarist.

I appreciated the fact that they took the trouble to stage this simply, in its traditional manner, minus the jazz/R&B, rock element that seems to pervade most modern music these days. Instead, there were alternating dreamy interludes meandering through the escalating rhythm and claps that came as the performance wore on.

The dancers stole the show, or rather, it was typically the young, hairy, sexy goateed Spaniard dressed in a two-toned maroon shirt and striped grey pants that garnered the most applause. He danced with a flair so unforgettable that his shirt buttons came off. But he continued dancing, holding his shirt closed – to my chagrin. It was more than his performance that was breathtaking.

Such sweet dreams.

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DestinationsEuropeSpainWestern Europe

Parts of Barcelona

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A typical Spanish breakfast is carbohydrate and fat-laden, a supposed hangover cure for the party-goers. It is admittedly, the thickest chocolate I’ve ever seen, the secret (according to the waiter) being cold milk that must be stirred in for consistency.

It has become my morning drug of choice, for as long as I’m here.

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The decay of the city becomes apparent once one moves further away from the touristic nerve towards the western elevated area called Montjuic. The Raval region just right of the Ramblas is home to an incredible number of immigrants, and in the Raval Square, drug pushers and abusers abound. The port area is a mystery – a mega hang-out, lots of boats, bordering an area that is seedy. In the morning sun however, the sheen of the Mediterranean is felt more than the rampant drug use. To the right of the port is the Barri Gotic area, the oldest part of Barcelona, built on top of the Roman ruins.

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The largeness of Barcelona is nonetheless surprising, seen from Montjuic. Montjuic is home to a number of landmarks, most notably the olympic stadium and a couple of art museums. It is an impressive sight, especially if the walk up from the Plaza Espanya is taken towards the New York Metropolitan museum of art.

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DestinationsEuropeSpainWestern Europe

Gorgeous, Gaudy Antoni Gaudi

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Jet-lagged, smelly and tired, the chaos of an airport is as jarring as a stick shoved up my nose.

I jumped into a taxi with 3 other German women (whom I obviously don’t know and who obviously half-think that I’m up to no good), praying that we were headed in the same direction. Apparently such boldness is still unheard of and they thought me strange, mildly speaking. The moment of communal distrust and anger came when the driver conveniently forgot to add the 12 Euro surcharge that comes when one hails the cab from the airport. I found myself thanking God that I was working and would not feel so much of a cash pinch, readying myself for a blistering fee.

4. En route to alcoholism: Gave in to the urge and bought a carton of Sangria that costs all but a whopping 1 Euro .

The apartment I’m staying in is stylish, yuppie-looking with hard-wood floors, and decked almost exclusively in white, black and red. By an ironic twist of events, I will have this place to myself. The owner (who is not around), according to his niece Carina, is himself a designer, and furnished the apartment to the tiniest detail.

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Walked down the La Rambla for a bit, a wide pedestrian, kilometre-long street leading to the sea with various bric-a-bracs, street performers, pet-hawkers, flower-shops and gypsies but took a sharp right into the the Mercat de Bouqueria, a marketplace of sorts that always draws me in no matter which country I visit.

Took the metro down to La Sagrada Familia, or the Exploratory Temple as they called it – wonderfully gothic with a macabre fairy-tale twist in its spires (if that is what you can even call it), incredibly, bulbously gorgeous, and intended to render speechless. No reservoir of words can righteously describe it – but Let’s Go Guide says it more irreverently: “Even if you have to crawl there, you must see it”.
It is a startling sight, despite the unsightly cranes and scaffolding.

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Conceived in the late 19th century, construction is still unfinished, and thankfully still on-going. It is not a Cathedral (for that honours belongs to some other Catalan Cathedral built in the corresponding time period), but rather some kind of allegorical edifice linked to the Christian cosmos of Christ, The Virgin, His evangelists, Virtues and Sin.

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I went back via the Ruta de Modernisme (apparently not only Gaudi’s buildings lay along this route) walk and in the district of the L’Eixemple and the Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona seems to be stuck in a 1920s time-warp, at least from the faded glory of the buildings and their gently gilded balconies.

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