No, no, my English is not getting worse, think about the subject line for a second. and if you still don´t get it, imagine Frank Sinatra belting this out (hope you´re listening, Sharon...). My iPod played this particular song as I was leaving Cordoba on a bus today.
Yesss!! (siiiiiiiiii!!) This is the Spain I´ve been looking for. Cordoba, where have you been and what took you so long?
As you can see, Cordoba was exactly what I needed - a lovely, slow-paced (especially on Sunday), and charming town, extremely photogenic. The town is on a river but the fun was in wandering its streets which are very maze-like, run in every direction, and are very easy to get lost on, even with a map. Each cobblestone street is about 20 feet wide, just enough for one car (or better, one vespa) to zip by on and the sidewalks are between 6 inches to 2 feet wide, just narrow enough for one person (or better, one petite person) to walk on. There are no street signs but just tiled letters on the sides of buildings. I counted only 4 stoplights in the whole city, but on the sidestreets, there´s none at all, and cars are required to stop for pedestrians (ha ha - take THAT, Madrid!) so you can walk wherever you want. ALL the buildings along the streets are apartments with little black terraces and flowers, I felt like I was on the set of "The Legend of Zorro".
One of my favorite things, was that many people have dogs that hang out on their balcony all day, watching the people go by, so I took some photos to demonstrate this (grande perro, pequeño perro).
In Cordoba, I finally ate real Spanish food. I can´t say it was my favorite food experience, and almost definitely even more caloric than McDonalds, but it was still great to try the local cuisine.
One joke is that a typical Spanish meal is "Ham and Pork with a side of Bacon" but it´s really true that some form of pork is in everything, and often with lots of olive oil or deep-fried with cheese. It´s probably a bad idea for someone with heartburn issues to visit here.
Last night I got to Cordoba about 6pm and asked my hotel clerk for a recommendation for good food because I didn´t have time for lunch (long story, keep reading). It turned out most cafes were closed since it was Sunday. When I finally found one cafe in the center of Cordoba´s main plaza, the waiter said they don´t serve any food until 9PM. Oh yeah, I forgot, I´m in Spain!
So I sat and had wine until they served food, made some phone calls to the US finally, and took plenty of time to try and translate the menu, using my Spanish-English dictionary. It´s so funny that I can understand and speak enough Spanish to get by, but menus are still a mystery to me, I guess because they often name dishes regionally.
Keeping in mind everything I ordered was tapas (appetizer) size, and I was starving, I ordered some chorizo (like thickly-sliced Pepperoni), some deep-fried spinach croquettes, and a house salad which I didn´t realize comes with TUNA on it. Gah. Otherwise, all was muy bueno.
This morning I also had a Spanish breakfast which was of course - cafe con leche (coffee with milk, very strong), zumo de aranja (always a fresh-squeezed orange juice, made with Valencia oranges), and a big piece of french-bread style toast with some olive oil mixed with tomato and pepper, plus of course - always of course - with shredded bacon on top. It was very good.
So why did I not eat lunch? If you´ve read this far, you are really a dedicated friend. Sorry for such long entries.
Well in MADRID, my favorite hellhole, a train schedule I had from EURAIL said that trains to Cordoba leave from the Charmatin train station, but they actually leave from the Atocha central station. HOW NICE. And, no, wait - it gets better - the metros were not running to Charmatin today, certain lines were "down" for some unexplained reason, so I was supposed to take the metro, then a bus, to Charmatin, but I got really sick of waiting so I took a cab. And then I found out that the train doesn´t leave from Charmatin. I literally could feel my blood pressure rising, I was getting so fed up. No really, it keeps getting better.
I finally got to Atocha and the lines for "travelling today" were an hour long. There were also lines for "travelling tomorrow" which I thought, "Maybe I´ll take a number and try and get my tomorrow´s travel in advance..." but by the time I got my today´s ticket, the "tomorrow" line had only gone through 8 people and let´s see... they were serving 107 and I had number 286. That would be like, a line of, what, 22 hours?! I can imagine what hell would be like now. Thank you Madrid, for painting me such an accurate picture.
I took a picture of the graffiti in the train station bathroom because I thought it summed up my experience pretty well.
One very humurous note, though - in the Atocha train station, they had an indoor rainforest thing, and while it was a nice idea, it adds an intense level of humidity to an already really hot station. points for trying, though!
I got a kick out of the fact that they had a pond on one end with about 100 turtles. (Even Madrid´s turtle population is out of control!!) And it was especially classic because my friend Luba and I used to have some turtles (um, candles, but they were still our pets) that for some inexplicable reason we gave Spanish names to - Jose, Paco, Miguel, Ricardo, Fernando, etc.
see - i wasn´t kidding about the turtles.
Also pictured below is the "rainforest" with a pile of garbage on the ground in front of it. Nice.
One thing I have to really give credit to Spain for, is in both Barcelona and Madrid, they took the 2004 terrorist attack extremely seriously and now they employ security guards on most of the train platforms, and they make you run your bags through x-rays at train stations and in most of the major sights like the museums.
This is a no-brainer, but it makes me angry that the U.S. doesn´t do enough of this, because we are an even more likely target (and we have tons of money we could be allocating to it). It especially bothers me at large arenas and concert halls that they often don´t even check your bag or pat you down. That is a huge area of vulnerability and it´s scary that we haven´t yet learned a lesson from 9/11.
Anyway, now I am in Granada, which honestly I was hoping to be small and quaint like Cordoba, but Granada is pretty big and spread out. The streets are old and all cobblestones and steps, so oh my gosh, it was a sweaty hike up to my hostel because my lazy rolling bag wouldn´t roll. I´ve totally learned how to yell at my luggage in Spanish already - No! Malo equipaje! Malo bolsa. Malo, malo!
Nevertheless, my hostel is reeeeeally cool, pictured left, it´s in an area of town that has an Arabic population and tons of little tea and shoe shops (so like, I could have bought anything from the Turkish Grand Bazaar also here, and without merchants harassing me). The hostel offered me an all-you-can-eat dinner plus all-you-can-drink Sangria for 3.50 € (or 5 bucks), which of course starts at 9PM, so how can I possibly turn that down???? They also have free internet so I´m in for the night. And, they have a little black dog who has been pacing around me, and dropping his ball on my lap ever since I sat down at this computer. Aww, just like home.
Unfortunately I may have a 12 HOUR combination bus / train trip to Lisbon to meet Kate on Wednesday. Yikes. I guess I´ll catch up on some postcard writing then. And looking at more olive groves than I ever imagined possible. Did you know - most of the world´s olive oil comes from Spain?? SI, it´s true. All those olive oil manufacturers with Italian women on the label are a pack of liars.
And what´s also funny-peculiar is that the Spanish countryside looks a lot like Mexico and like Napa Valley in California, it makes me wonder whether it was any coincidence that Spaniards and Portugese settled in Latin America and the Southwest of the US, as opposed to say, Alabama or Connecticutt.
Oh and one last thing, now that I speak some Spanish, I am SO even more dying to see the movie NACHO LIBRE. In fact, that´s the plan the day I get back to the U.S.
well I am all talked out. enjoy the photos, I will enjoy my sangria.