Down the mid-lands to Cordoba & Seville

Sept. 18

From Porzuna we thought it would be an easy ride to Malagon, but the head wind changed that thinking. The ride was a lonely one through high plains farming country. Very few people live out here and the 2 villages that we did pass through had no stores, cafes or bars. The few people we saw looked despondent. The crops are mostly wheat with large groves of olive trees. It’s probably really pretty earlier in the summer when everything it green, but now it’s all been harvested and quite dry.

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Malagon is a very small town but the area’s shopping headquarters.

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This is Don Quixote Country.

They were having a festival with music and dancing in the main street. We found our hotel which was fairly strange for this small town as it had pillars, a dried up fountain, and palm trees out front. When we pulled up, the doors were locked, no one was around and 4 small dogs sere at the door barking at us. The place looked abandoned. After a few minutes a car pulled up. The people let us in although they did not look like they expected us despite our reservation through  Booking.com.  No English spoken but friendly and finally all was settled. We went back out for a ride around the town and a stop on main street to have a drink and check out the festival. At around 3:30 the band packed up and all that was left of the festival were the usual locals drinking beer. It stayed quiet till late that evening when it came alive again. We missed the fun.

Saterday Sept. 19
We awoke to loud snoring from out in the hall. When Ed went out to look for yogurt for breakfast, he found the woman from the hotel sleeping in her clothes with a blanket on the couch in the hall. Very strange. She got up and acted as if all was normal.
The day was beautiful, sunny, and warmer than it had been. We took off riding about 10 am and took our time enjoying the day. Most of the riding was through vineyards and olive groves. Both red and white grapes are grown here. This is the area that has the most hectares in grape cultivation in all of Spain.

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As we rode down the deserted road, we felt our tires sticking to the pavement. Most of the time when we follow a wet stream on the road it is from a leaking “honey wagon,” but we soon figured out that this time it was grape juice. It is harvest time in the vineyards and the leaky trucks are leaving a trail of sticky juice. Much more pleasant than the aroma coming from the leaky honey wagon. The route we plotted took us on a deserted farm to market road with more asphalt patches than actual asphalt. At around 1 pm we were in a village square having coffee. The place was abuzz with locals doing the same. As we rode out of town one old boy stopped us and asked where we were going, etc. When we said we didn’t speak Spanish he asked in French? Ed said yes, and he promptly responded with “Bon journo!” Smiling all the while. Isn’t that Italian? The day ended at the Plaza Mayor in downtown Ciudad Real where there was a Medieval festival and parade going on.

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The TI was right there in Plaza Mayor and staffed with a couple of very enthusiastic and helpful young women. They offered maps and things to do in the city and surrounding area. They didn’t speak English exactly, but asked lots of questions about where we have been and what we’re doing. With their suggestions and info we had a plan for the 2 days here which were necessitated because the car rental company is not open Saturday afternoon or Sunday.

While sitting on a bench having our lunch, we spotted 2 Mormon missionaries from Utah and Idaho. They were VERY anxious to visit with us. We ended up spending about 45 min. with them. One had been in Spain for over a year and the other for 4 months. They denied being homesick, but starved for talk in English and with folks from home. They’re having a hard time with the time schedule of Spain….Bible study from early to 10 am, then out on the streets from 11:00 to 2 then home till 7 or 8 and back on the streets till 10:30. Makes for long days. They also admitted, as we’ve observed, that the Spanish don’t want to talk with them even though they speak Spanish.
After settling into our hotel we again went downtown to the festival and dinner. We feel a little like the character in the book “Clan of the Cave Bear” but instead of searching each day for fire, we are in search of food.

Sunday Sept. 20 Ciudad Real

Ahhhh, another sunny and hot day. The TI had given us info about a Roman Ruin outside of town so we got on our bikes and rode 12 km to the rural site. It had a beautiful church still in use,

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The one room museum and info center had nothing we could read, but it was a nice outing for the morning. Once back in town, we did our own siesta. When it cooled down and the place was waking up we went to the tavern/tapas place next to the hostal to have a drink. Through pointing and the dictionary, we asked about the menu. The waiter/bar tender understood “no meat,” etc., and said no problem. We’d be back later for dinner. Once again we took a walk downtown to look through the fair and taste some of cheese at one of the stalls for an appetizer. There is a lot of goat cheese made in Spain. Several of the longer aged ones are wonderful.

We returned to the restaurant outside our hotel and had a wonderful dinner with “no meat.”

Monday September 21 Heading south from Ciudad Real by car.

Things are going our way! Found the rental car place without difficulty. The car they gave us was large enough to fit both bikes inside standing up with the front wheel taken off…SCORE. This made our life lots easier. After a scenic drive of 120 km through the mountains to Cordoba, we found our apartment inside the old city walls right across from all the major sites. It was still early so we walked to the TI then looked at and crossed the old Roman bridge. Dinner was in the apt. so we could read up on and plan our tourist attack for tomorrow.

Tues. Sept. 22 Cordoba

Got up early as the Mosque-turned Cathedral is free and not crowded from 8:30 till 9:30 am after which they kick out all the non–believing public and hold Mass. At 10:30 or 11 the place opens for real. The place is huge with more than 800 columns of red and white stone erected by the Muslim faithful in the 10th century.

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We’ll   have to continue our visit tomorrow. Since it was still early and very pleasant out, we just wandered around Judios Street, which as the name implies (and probably means in Spanish) runs through the once Jewish Quarter. We toured one of the three oldest Synagogues in Spain,

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an old and traditionally preserved Casa built in the 1600’s, and the Sephardic museum complete with Hebrew/Latino song. All quite interesting. We bought tickets to a Flamenco show in the heart of the Jewish Quarter for 7 pm tonight.

While walking to our next museum we ran into a guy who we’d seen earlier in the day. He’s from Boston and in Spain on business. The three of us went to the museum of Muslim history in the area, and con’t our visit. Although we were very interested to see this museum as we had been told  that it would give us a history of the Moslem religion, it did not. It gave us a canned introduction to the teachings in the Koran which included the peace/love thing. We were hoping for an explanation of the beginnings of the religion and how it has evolved through the years.

Upon leaving the museum, and crossing back over the Roman bridge, we ran into the German couple we’d seen last week. They rode over the 2 mountain passes from Ciudad to Cordoba and had just arrived. Said it was a very difficult ride with many long and steep hills. It took them 2 days longer than they had anticipated because of the difficulty of the climbs. It was great to see them again. They’re now headed to Granada then along the southern coast into Portugal. Who knows, we may run into them again on the beaches of Portugal in a couple of weeks.

We relaxed a bit at the apartment, which is just a few steps away from the old town, before taking a walk through the artisans area and window shopping the crafts. On to the Flamenco show at 7. Neither of us is much into Flamenco music or dance, but we wanted the experience first hand in Spain. We were not disappointed with the quality or energy of the dancing, singing and guitar playing, but of course didn’t understand the lyrics of the songs or the story behind the dance. All three of the performers, guitarist, singer and dancer were very talented, we think. It was like going to an opera in a foreign language without knowing what the story is and not knowing the traditions.

After the show we had dinner at a sidewalk restaurant and then took a leisurely walk back to
our apartment. The evenings are moonlit and shirt sleeve warm till well after midnight.
Wednesday, September 23 Cordoba continued.

Slept in and went for a random route bike ride during which we happened upon a large bike shop where we bought a chain cleaner, a huge sporting goods store where we got more camping gas to keep our morning coffee coming and the newer side of Cordoba. Another beautiful day. Lunch at about 2 p.m. back at the apartment then a slow and easy return to the Cathedral to finish our self-guided tour following the path suggested by Rick Steves’ guide book.

Cathedral
Cordoba Cathedral

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After about 2 hours in the cathedral during which we were treated to an organ “recital”

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Some of the 4000 pipes of this organ
Some of the 4000 pipes of this organ

occasioned by the men who were working on the organ we had had enough of this magnificent building(s). We should ad that site was originally built up by the Visigoths in the fourth century (We think.) Some of the artifacts displayed in the cathedral are from that era.

Visigoth's artifacts

Except for s mosaic floor, the Visigoth’s structure was destroyed and the old stones used to build a christian church which was sold to the Muslim conquerors in the 8th century. When the Christians again occupied the city, they reclaimed the structure and declared that the Catholic church predated the Muslim Mosque so the structure, which the Muslims had built was really historically a church and they were just doing God’s work by “christianizing”the Mosque. The cathedral is a meld of Moorish and Gothic styles which seem to have been appreciated on both sides of the aesthetic mavens. Fortunately for posterity, the Church recognized the sanctity and beauty of the Mosque and kept most of it intact.

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The Spanish kings’ private chapel is entirely Moorish style. The huge expanse of the “cathedral” that surrounds the actual Catholic Cathedral, consists of the 800 + columns which support Moorish arches and which are covered with Moorish symbols and decoration. Despite the fact that the Catholic part is very Catholic, the Catholic prelates responsible for the conversion of the Mosque to a Catholic Cathedral appreciated the Moorish culture and design influence and kept about 70% of it including the Muslim alter. It is a strange place going from rich, golden and silver Catholic pieces and huge religious paintings to the double arches and row upon row of multi colored Moorish arches and columns.

Took some more pictures of the cathedral and headed off to bed.

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Thursday, September 24 Cordoba-Seville

Drove out of Cordoba at about 2 p.m. with the bikes safely in the back of our rental car. Easy drive to Seville through mostly flat as far as the eye could see farm country with crops of olives and grains. Very reminiscent of North Dakota and the wheat fields of the mid-west. Saw a large outdoor market in a small town just off the highway so made our way back and trundled through the wears which were for sale. Scored a couple of modest purchases and then moved onto Seville. We arrived about 3 p.m. at our humble abode which is very similar to a dorm room except this facility caters to rowers. Our building is right on the water and apparently, in the winter, rowers from all over Europe come to practice and complete on the canal here in Seville. We were told that in January this place is filled with people staying as their own rivers are frozen.

Our place is about 4 km from the old Cathedral on a bike path along the canal, so rode our bikes into town to scope out the Visitor Center, the cathedral and the Alcazar Palace as well as the meeting place for tomorrow’s walking tour. Cocktail hour at a street café, a Mexican dinner and some pictures of the cathedral and some interesting buildings then back to our room.

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Friday, September 25 Seville

Rode the 4 km into the center of old Seville and the joined the walking tour suggested by our guide book. It was almost 2 hours and hit the high lights and included a visit outside the Cathedral as well as 2 other churches and many interesting places.

It weted our appetites to go back to spend more time in the cathedral which we did in the afternoon with the same guide. The cathedral is the third biggest in Europe, behind St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. It did not look that big inside. It is, however, sumptuous. There is an amazing amount of gold leaf, silver, gold and stained glass.

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It is built on top of a mosque (you may think you have heard this before) that was built in the 10th century and incorporates the mosque’s court yard, bell tower and uses part of the mosque as the foundation for the church. It was built in the 16th century in 80 years (since it did not include a new bell tower or courtyard.) Because it was built so quickly (at least as far as cathedrals go), it has a homogeneous style of architecture though there were 3 separate architects responsible for its construction.

The main alter piece took 60 years to carve. Silver and gold are everywhere. Spain was rich in those days and a world power with conquered lands in South America, America, the Caribbean and in Europe. It imported gold and silver from these places and the Kings and Queens spent lavishly. Nobles were also rich and wanted to show their faith and buy a ticket into heaven so many of the side chapels are also lavish and were the property of the nobles who paid for them, and are buried in them.
After finishing up with the Cathedral, we visited the other church on the same ticket.By this time we’d had enough, and went to a bar for a small local beer (canya) and a glass of Spanish sherry.
Saturday, September 26 Seville

We had 9:30 reservations to tour the Alcazar which is Spanish for fortress/palace. This one is actually still in use by the royal family when they are in Seville. Evidently they were busy elsewhere so they missed our visit. Too bad for them. Seville’s history as with other parts of Spain has had 4 distinct civilizations. Two of which, the Roman and the Visigoth remnants are mostly hidden since they were nearly all dismantled then used in the construction for later inhabitants. The Moorish and the Spanish civilizations are alive and well in southern Spain. The Seville Alcazar is a good example. Most of the interior is Moorish with double horseshoe arches, slender columns, blue tiles on the walls, wooden carved and adorned ceilings and mosaics everywhere.

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To top it all off, the gardens are the best we have seen this trip. Although they are nowhere near the size of the gardens at Versailles and have no statuary, they are manicured and geometric and are most pleasant to wander through.

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We spent 5 hours at the Alcazar including 20 minutes in the Royal Apartments in a  walk through with audio guide and security escort to make sure we kept moving and did not take any pictures or touch anything.

After lunch we visited a hospital for the poor started 300 years ago by THE Don Juan who found religion after killing a few people and bedding many women. Guilt is amazing!

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Not too much of the hospital was open to the public as it is still in use.

We went to one of the local nunneries and purchased 2 Euro worth of their special goodies which look and taste (Ed took Maggie’s word on this) like communion wafers. Hay, it’s for a good cause.

We also visited the Indies Archives. The word “Indies” apparently means “New World” so this archives is full of documents that are germane to the new world (that’s us.) It is a beautiful building

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Gold and silvers scale  model of C. Columbus' ship.
Gold and silvers scale model of C. Columbus’ ship

which lay empty and deteriorating for many years until it was converted into this library of 80 million priceless documents which have been scanned into the archive web site and are available on line to anyone. Although we did not sample any of the archive fare, we did enjoy the beautiful building that houses them. It was another beautiful day in southern Spain that ended in a memorable sunset.

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Sunday, September 27 Seville to Vila Real San Antonio, Portugal

Up early to take advantage of the cool air and good light and went for a bike ride along the river from which Seville got its fame and fortune. On the way we passed the building from whence Columbus and other notables whose voyages were funded by the Spanish monarchy sailed west.

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The building is perhaps 100′ from the river now since much of the water from the river has been diverted to form the canal that parallels the river and is the delight of rowers and other water fowl . We also happened upon a few other notably attractive buildings about whose history and function we have no idea.

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We checked out and 2 hours later we were in Portugal thanks to a good roadway with little traffic. Since both Spain and Portugal are members of the EU, the only evidence of a border besides the very small sign welcoming drivers to Portugal was the obligatory stop at the “toll booth” for foreigners who must provide a credit card so we can be charged for use of Portugal’s toll roads.

We are in the most south eastern corner of Portugal. The towns are very small. The weather is wonderful. There is very little wind and almost no public transportation. We had a drink in the lovely town square, walked around a bit, found a hotel where we can leave the car and some of our belongings while we ride the southern coast (the Algarve) and relaxed. It was a beautiful evening with a paella dinner and a great sunset.

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