There is no direct route from Toledo to any other city, so it’s back to the train hub at Madrid. The landscape between Toledo and Madrid reminds me of Eastern Washington, with rolling brown hills, and red clay soil along the railroad tracks. About an hour outside of Toledo, olive groves give way to deciduous trees and more rugged mountains in the distance.
Back at the Madrid train station, the misting machines are at work in the conservatory, and the pond is swarming with baby turtles. The traditional breakfast here is cafe con leche and either a croissant or fried pastry. I confuse the staff by ordering a club sandwich, which I finish well before the train arrive. My next destination is Cordoba.
Cordoba is almost as much like OZ as Istanbul was. My taxi takes me through a very crowded street, along a stone wall which I would discover is the Mezquita, the model of which I saw at the Islamic Science Museum in Istanbul last year.
- Cordoba was a scholastic center from the 8th century. Under Muslim rule, Spain celebrated a golden age of economic and cultural revival. Christians, Jews and Muslims worked together in the scribal houses, translating the world’s works into their respective languages. It was among the most diverse and religiously tolerant cities of its time.
My taxi drops me off at the front door of Los Patios, across the street from the Mezquita. What a happy little hotel! I’m booked into a second floor room, with a balcony overlooking an enclosed courtyard filled with palms and tables. I sit down to a dish of squid in ink sauce and my first Sangria, to fuel up before exploring the city.
I find a stable, and a poster announcing an equestrian festival that begins the day after I leave :( The stable is locked but I am able to slip my camera through a tear in the screening. I can just barely see the heavily vaulted ceilings and iron railings that separate the stalls.
Aside from the Mezquita, Cordoba may be best known for its Los Patios District. They architectural style dates to Roman times, when houses were built around open air agoras (courtyards). The Moors added fountains and flowers. There is an annual festival and competition among the home owners, many of whom will charge a small fee (50 centavos) if you want to come in and have a look around. The courtyards are cool and fragrant, and just delightful.
Heading north takes me into the Art Nouveau District, where the architecture is a mix of Nouveau and Deco facades.
Turning a corner suddenly brings me into the stark ruins of a Roman temple dating to the 1st century.
- Cordoba dates to about 160 BC, when it served as a Roman trading port. It remained a Roman city for 8 centuries. It became an Emirate in 756 and a Caliphate under Abd-ar-Rahman in 929.
I tour the Palacio de Viana a 14th century manor house and gardens, named after the Marquises of Villaseca, who lived here until the 19th century. Among my favorites was the Courtyard of the Cats, the oldest documented community courtyard in Córdoba, dating to the 15th century, and the Courtyard of the Orange Trees. Originally the Arabic kitchen garden, it was the entrance to the palace in the 15th century. It includes a maze garden with a fountain at the center, surrounded by 100-year old orange trees. The Courtyard of the Columns (shown below) is a modern addition, built in the 1980’s.
I finish my day with dinner at an outdoor cafe, where a menu advertises pre-packaged flans, custards and ice creams that are delivered to your table in their wrappers. I would find this at every restaurant I ate at here, and was amused with the concept of restaurant menus for freezer-case desserts.