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Fans & Flamenco in Castilla Cordoba

FRANCE | Sunday, 21 June 2009 | Views [813]


Another high speed train, another Spanish city. We arrived in Cordoba earlier this week. The first view of the city appeared that Cordoba was like any other Mediterranean city, palm trees and modern buildings, until the taxi arrived in the old centre of the city. The old city of Cordoba, established by the moors, is based around the 'Mosquita' (pronounced like mosquito). The streets are a series of winding lanes faced by whitewashed buildings with black iron balconies. You would think that the whole centre is some part of a Disneyland set but it is a working city. The lane ways are only wide enough to fit one taxi, just.

Our accommodation was at the Hotel Lola, which was described as an 'artwork in itself'; it also amusingly reminds me of a Peter Allan ballad. The hotel literally was both, the three floors were covered in paintings and there were antiques and stuffed cushions everywhere. Most buildings such as this in Spain have a central courtyard with a skylight. We were on the top floor and our room even had a terrace looking over the roof tops to the tower of the Mosquita. However, it was impossible to sit outside as it was 45 degrees. Yes, for those of you in 5 degree temperatures in Australia at present I know you would find it unbelievable. It is unbelievable how any one could withstand this heat for days on end, but the Spanish do by spending a lot of the day sleeping, as we quickly discovered. The hotel receptionists, of which there were only 2, one morning and one evening, as there were only 8 rooms, were extremely helpful and uniquely Spanish. From their level of excitement when they learned where we came from, I don't think many people from Australia stay there, I wonder what the reception will be like in Avila.

The first night we went for dinner we went what we thought was relatively late; 9pm. We were given a card to entitle us to a free drink at a restaurant owned by the hotel. We have discovered that many businesses in Cordoba are mini empires with several restaurants, hotels, bars and cafes combined. If you go to one business they recommend you eat or stay at their connecting hotel or restaurant. Infact the whole of the old city is a maze of such businesses. We entered the restaurant to find it empty; we were very, very early. They happily served us but as we were leaving at about 10.30 pm most families were turning up to eat. We also discovered that restaurants are heavily overstaffed by waiters who seem to just hang around gossiping. Usually someone will speak some English and we manage to order. Sometimes we get what we think we ordered, sometimes not and sometimes not at all.

We spent 2 days in Cordoba exploring the old city. Tristan, Paul's 21 year nephew, told us that we were spending too long in Cordoba and there was not a lot to do. This is why Barcelona is full of backpackers, Sevilla and Malaga are popular places for partying if you are 18 and a place like Cordoba is fairly tranquil. We started with a tour of the Mosquita, the Alkazbar palace and the old Jewish quarters of the city. The gardens of the palace were superb with palm trees and the pools that the moors were famous for creating. The palace was used for a number of purposes over the centuries; as a residence for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand as well as a prison during the Spanish inquisition.

The Mosquita was the highlight of Paul's trip to Spain, next to of course, Avila. Paul is building up so much excitement for the trip to the town named after his school, he is perched on the edge of his seat on the train trip in anticipation. The Mosquita was originally built as a Mosque and then converted to a catholic cathedral. It is famous for its multi columned halls of stripped archways. In the interior of the building the catholic king built a cathedral so it is very unusual to see two buildings from different religions combined into one. Once our tour finished we returned to the hotel for the required 2 hour sleep that one has every afternoon.

Later that afternoon, needing a few supplies we decided to find the nearest supermarket, this turned into an across town trek to the Euroski shopping centre, the place where most people go to survive the heat. It was 45 degrees outside and at 5 pm the shopping centre was deserted but we did find the equivalent to Big W and discovered that you cannot buy tissues in packs but you can certainly buy a pistol or handgun.

Requiring refreshment after our trek we stopped at a local bar in the square, this happened to be next to the local dance school. In Spain, young girls learn not ballet but Flamenco dancing. It seemed to be the end of term concert and there were lots of mothers and grandparents armed with video cameras and mobile phones waiting for their proteges to appear. You could have been in South Yarra or Gordon. Any Spanish woman carries with her the essential fan that she madly waves when agitated or excited. The speed of which the fan is waved determines the level of excitement or stress. There were many fans waved at great speed outside the Flamenco school at the conclusion of the concert. Our tour guide that day even had a fan which she used at regular intervals in situations where she needed to pass or gain our attention. Instead of holding up the usual umbrella, as most European tour guides do, she would wave her fan. However, there were only 4 of us on the tour and two of us were the English speakers and the other two were Spanish. I noticed there was much more fan waving happening when the Spanish speaking was happening than the English. My family will be highly amused that I too have purchased a fan. My paternal grandmother always had a fan which she used in the same manner as the Spanish. Her waving was usually accompanied by a statement about her level of comfort in any situation whether the weather was hot or not. I thought I should have it in preparation for when my niece or nephew is born so I too can wave it.

As we had experienced the excitement of Flamenco dancing expressed by the young students and their mothers, we decided to attend a performance ourselves. However, our show commenced at 10.30 pm. We were not sure if it was too 'tourist orientated' but it appeared fairly genuine and I am sure my brother could have put his skills as a production co-ordinator to work to assist them to run a smooth performance. However the music was haunting and the dancers were very skilled. I had forgotten how much rhythm is required to move your hands and feet in time to the music. The performance was also conducted on an outdoor stage so it was still at least 35 degrees. Cordoba is very beautiful by night as all the buildings are flood lit and the sky is an inky blue. This probably increases the dramatic effect of the performance. The area was set up with small tables and chairs and they offered us an 'aperitif' which is white sherry. I will say that this is not a favourite beverage of Paul's as his father loved the drink and 9 years on Paul's mother could still operate a cellar specialising in the drink. Therefore I seem to be surviving on drinking lots of the beverage, enough to kill any 'bugs' that may be living in my system.

The water in Cordoba is of a very good quality. You are encouraged to drink out of many of the fountains dotted around the city centre. This would please Cecile enormously who loves her water and is a very discerning connoisseur. Our very friendly hotel receptionist (we seem to be befriending these women as we travel the country, or more so my husband is) suggested we try a swim in the traditional baths. Paul and I have done this in Turkey and found it pleasant but a little inversive. After we confirmed that you do wear your bathers to the pool we booked in for an hour session. The baths consist of 3 pools; warm, hot and cool, as well as a steam room. You bathe in the pools in that order and take a session in the steam room to invigorate your system. When you enter the main warm pool everyone is bobbing in the water like a series of small cherry tomatoes. When I finished my bath I experienced a change room with at least 20 Spanish women who cheerily explained how to use the shower, the locker and cubicle but left me standing in my naked bar a towel because I hadn't indicated I needed a cubicle by hanging my wet bathers on the hook on the door.

We are leaving Cordoba to move on to Avila. Although we have seen Saint Theresa in the Mosquita in several forms; in white and variegated marble and in black marble on the main altar; getting inspiration from a dove and writing with a feather, Paul still needs to visit the site of her presence. So two breakfasts later; hotel and train 'business style' we will arrive in Avila. I think we can now prove to Generation Y that Cordoba is not 'boring' and good wine, food and swimming can be found if you search it out.

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