Escape to Andalucía: One day in Córdoba

One Day in_Córdoba

Back in October-November 2017 I spent my half term wandering around the streets of Madrid, which I blogged about here and here. I seized at the opportunity to get out of the capital and spend a day in a very different city I had yet to visit.

The greatest part about Madrid is how it sits smack bang in the centre of Spain and has excellent rail connections to most parts of the county. In only an hour and a half after boarding the train at Atocha station, I was walking the streets of Córdoba in the balmy heat of your average Andalucian Autumnal morning.

Córdoba is a small city, so a gentle 25-minute walk from the station will find you at its historic centre, where you will find plenty to fill your 1-day itinerary.

Most visitors come to marvel at its iconic Mezquita. You can book tickets in advance online and you should! I had read many reports that the Mezquita is never too crowded and it is easy to get a ticket on the day. How misinformed I was. Usually I book these things in advance just in case things go wrong; but I had been in Spain a few days and already I was super relaxed about everything.

The Mezquita had a massive queue when I arrived, but it closed for several hours in the afternoon when I came back for another try, and only reopened a little before I had to catch my train back to Madrid. Before heading back to the station, there was the most ridiculous queue of people waiting at the entrance to get inside. It was disappointing, so I will know next time not to leave these things to chance.

23130651_10159364277970447_7769544518699184863_n.jpg

Outside the Mezquita

Despite not being able to visit the main site in the city, Córdoba had a few other places of interest which I may not have had the chance to see otherwise!

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

22886159_10159364277215447_2163534165028255817_n.jpg

Not far from the Mezquita is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, or Palace of the Christian Kings. The gardens were enjoyable to look around and you can see inside some of the original buildings. It is very different to the Alcazares of Sevilla and Granada as this one seems less grand and much smaller, but for a couple of euros it is a must-do when in Córdoba.

Roman Bridge

22886016_10159364277775447_164113895760235416_n.jpg

Opposite the Mezquita you can walk along the Roman Bridge. This is a famous film set too for Game of Thrones as the ‘Long Bridge of Volantis.’ As a fan, I appreciated this.

Jewish Quarter

Córdoba has a small but rich Jewish heritage in its historic centre. Visit the small but informative Casa de Sefarad to get an idea of what life was like for Jews in the city prior to C15th. Around the corner is a Synagogue, built in the 14th century which still has some beautiful and intricate carvings on the walls.

Celleja de las Flores

Be prepared to be patient if you are heading to this next spot and wanting a picture-perfect shot of the tiny street adorned with flowers, as everyone else is trying to do the same thing! Look past the crowds and enjoy the beauty in this small place.

The best part about Córdoba is wandering its narrow streets, stumbling upon beautiful buildings, and being lost in another time. It was particularly good to stock up on some Vitamin D as this was the last time for a while that I felt the suns rays before I returned to the cold of winter in England!

22885825_10159364276080447_915295667649852990_n22886160_10159364278725447_4581759143469519456_n23130656_10159364276360447_8593106081891969223_n23130848_10159364278410447_8661326910277714672_n23131681_10159364278545447_4709054409590920092_n23130597_10159364276250447_3738126263946711889_n

Advertisements

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to my lovely readers.

2017 was a wonderful year of travel for me – the busiest yet, travelling to three continents and exploring places new and old. Looking forward to what 2018 has to bring!

Berlin in February

16864776_10158135144125447_6098154147418160602_n

Making it to Japan for sakura (cherry-blossom) season

17952469_10158386986475447_243495640751863852_n

Exploring the beauty of Kyoto!

IMG_3808

Camping in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Survived the downpour of the first day…

Exploring Prague in July – the wettest/coldest spell you could have asked for!

20294094_10158939586775447_8388624475794017987_n

All the food in Chile.

img_1282

Celebrating my 23rd birthday in the Atacama Desert.

20664530_10159011362855447_3910813197041456995_n

Experiencing the wilderness in the Bolivian Salt Flats and its surroundings.

20767942_10159026913160447_2218391359186957988_n

Visiting Machu Picchu for the second time!

Soaking up the last of the sun in Spain in Autumn.

22894444_10159359151155447_5687475407129636062_n

Thanks 2017, let’s make 2018 even better!

Mooching around Madrid [Part 2]

Despite being a capital city, Madrid goes at a much slower pace than the likes of its counterparts. Weaving my way through the crowded pavements, the locals do not walk, they seem to wander aimlessly, with no destination in mind, and no awareness that there are other people trying to get past. They kept reminding me that I could actually take my time.

I did not pack my days with itineraries, but I had an idea of the activities I wanted to do. I have collected some of the highlights of my trip!

Highlights of my week

Spa afternoon

For my first day, I booked a trip the the Hamman Al-Andalus baths to de-stress and have a good start to the trip. My favourite spa in Spain, I have been to the Madrid location before as well as the one in Granada and I highly recommend going. Make sure you pack a swimsuit!

Day-tripping

Smack-bang in the middle of the country, Madrid is so well connected to other cities by public transport. I took a high-speed train to Córdoba in Andalucia; usually a 4-hour car journey, however after rolling out of Puerta de Atocha station, I was in the sunny south of the country in only 90 minutes! There are loads of other day-trip options, Córdoba is quite far! Most people go to cities like Salamanca, Toledo, Segóvia. However, I have been to these places before and Córdoba was at the top of my list.

El Palacio Real

During my first visit to Madrid, I had attempted to visit the Royal Palace, to only learn it was closed – it is often closed for important events. This time, better informed, I made sure I checked availability online and booked my tickets in advance. The palace is beautiful and fascinating if you are interested in Spanish history and the royal family. The armory collection is particularly impressive too. Don’t miss the temporary exhibition (this was an extra 1€ to my ticket). Not many people seem to choose this option as I was the only one in there when I went in, but I was glad I did; I learned all about Carlos III and the exhibit was brilliant!

Museo Reina Sofia

Free to students and there is a cat cafe next door. Definitely a good museum choice for people like me who still have a valid student card and are cat-mad. There are much fewer queues here than the famous Prado (which I still have not been to). It is a massive museum and has a range of temporary and permanent exhibitions. Most famous for the museum where you can see Picasso’s Guernica. Nevertheless, I absolutely loved the temporary exhibit about George Herriman and the Krazy Kat illustrations and from the permanent exhibit on war, I learned about the extreme poverty in Las Hurdes in the 20th century, through Luis Buñuel’s shocking documentary, Las Hurdes: Land without Bread (1933).

Opera

Researching online before my trip, I discovered that they were showing my favourite opera, Carmen (Georges Bizet) during the dates that I was there. Okay, I have seen this opera twice already, but third time is the charm, right? Plus, I had only just purchased some opera glasses in an antique store a few weeks prior and needed to test them out… I had a great time at the opera, and although it was the one thing I splurged on, it was absolutely worth it!

23172884_10159372470725447_8871718698398749144_n

Way, way, way up, but I had a great view!

Templo de Debod

I had been here before, but I loved the sunset over this Egyptian Temple that I had to go back. It is a popular place to see the sunset as it is so beautiful, so don’t be late!

22894444_10159359151155447_5687475407129636062_n

Madrid has so much to offer and I feel like I made the most of my time there. From the highlights mentioned above to the little things like: speaking Spanish with anyone and everyone, sitting outside a café munching on pan con tomate and sipping a warm Colacao for breakfast and walking everywhere – something I dont get to do much at home, made it a great autumn getaway.

What do you think of Madrid? Let me know in the comments!

p.s. apologies for the lack of photos, I had to factory reset my phone and lost most of my photos, including ones of all the cute cats 😦

Robyn

 

Mooching around Madrid [Part 1]

Eight weeks long, the first and also the longest half term in the school calender finally came to a close last week. The first 2 months as an NQT have been tough,  but having my little trip to Madrid kept my head above water.

I booked cheap flights on a whim earlier in Spring, knowing very well that neither J. nor any of my friends would be able to accompany me. The Ryanair scare of thousands of cancelled flights did not affect me and I was still able to go.

This was not only my first time back in Spain since my Year Abroad and but also the first time I have done solo travel in two years. I visited Madrid on my own before flying home two years ago; three days in summer was not enough to make the most of the city, so this time I booked 5 days to make the most of my time off.

I have travelled alone so many times over the last 5 years and really enjoyed it: Paris, Madrid, Porto, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lisbon… but admittedly, it was something that took a few days for me to get re-accustomed to. I chose my hostel in particular as from the reviews, it was very sociable and friendly, but unfortunately it was anything but. Frustrating, as when I have travelled alone in the past, the hostels have really been a highlight of the trip.

Even after having spent a total of 8 days in the Spanish capital, I cannot say I have done everything, but that was not my intention. I did what I wanted in my own time. I saw some museums, slept during siesta, did some shopping, did the day-trip I wanted, splurged on that opera ticket, went to a spa, went to the cat café. I actually did quite a bit but it was not rushed. That is the beauty of going to a place and having the time to do it slowly, you don’t have to rush and cram everything in.

So I am home now, mentally preparing myself to go back to work tomorrow and also for the next seven weeks before the Christmas holidays. At least it is Bonfire Night tonight!

Stay tuned for Part 2

Weekly blog posts about my South American adventure published every Sunday!

Robyn

Travel Update: Where am I going next?

So today I had my final formal observation of my teacher training year! Relieved is an understatement. My final evidence bundles are ready to hand in on Wednesday. Just 4 and a bit weeks to go until I qualify – I can see the light out of this very long, dark tunnel.

At least I have so much look forward to: holidays that is – lots of them!

July 2017: Prague and Pembrokeshire, UK

Two days after I qualify (!) I am flying out to Prague for a few days with some of my old school friends. I’m glad to be squeezing some time in to explore a bit more of Europe this summer! If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments.

Flash forward a day or two and I will be in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It started out as a nice, quiet weekend with just me and J. but then he came up with the idea of inviting all his old uni friends, so it’s quite the group who are going now. I’m glad some +1s are going otherwise it would have turned into a lads trip + me! Not so relaxing… It’s my first trip to South Wales and fingers crossed the weekend won’t be a wash-out! Although saying that, I am sure it will be.

August 2017: Peru, Chile, Bolivia

This trip has been so much more complicated to plan than South East Asia was, I just hope that it all works out. Stay tuned for a post later this week on 3 reasons why I am looking forward to returning to Peru.

October 2017: Madriiiiid

For my first October half term as an NQT teacher Spanish and French teacher, I have 5 days solo travel in Madrid booked. I’m being a good Languages teacher – I am going a Spanish-speaking country for professional development…

I am being constantly reminded that, “okay, so you’re finding your training year tough? Wait until your NQT year…” This is not filling me with much confidence, but I am one to focus on what I have to look forward to, to get me through.

I have my hostel and my flights sorted, nothing more. I spent 3 days there two years ago at the end of my Year Abroad and I regretted not going sooner, as I absolutely loved it! I’m looking forward to visiting the museums (finally), eating my favourite food and going to the Hamman Al-Andalus Baths again to chill out. It would be great to do a day trip somewhere new like Córdoba. I cannot bear to return to my Spanish home, Salamanca, for a day. The idea weighs heavy on my heart and fills me with too much nostalgia now I no longer live there.

Are you looking forward to any future travels this coming year? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Robyn

Impressions: Madrid

I had passed through Madrid, or should I say, Madrid-Barajas Airport, five times already.

Madrid. It has always seemed like an annoying necessity; a stop-over when travelling to Peru, the closest city with an airport when heading to my Year Abroad destination, Salamanca.

Although only a 2h45 minute journey from Salamanca and the closest city of interest, you would have thought I would have visited Madrid sooner – but I didn’t. Instead, the capital was the final trip during my semester in Spain after a determination to visit everywhere but.

Whenever people had mentioned Madrid to me, words such as “underwhelming, overrated, not as good as Barcelona” soon followed. The ‘idea’ of Madrid just didn’t reach out to me all that much because of this. It seemed like a trip to visit the city for a few days would be worthwhile, before I headed to the airport to fly home, just to see it for myself. I had really wanted to go to the Hammam Al-Ándalus baths again which are in Madrid as well as Granada and other cities in Andalucía, plus I found out there was a cat café there too, so it couldn’t be all that bad.

Perhaps going to Madrid with no expectations at all made my experience better, but all I can say is this – I loved it! Yes, I actually absolutely loved Madrid, who could have seen that coming? I am kicking myself for not wanting to go earlier, even after three days there I didn’t even manage to go into the Prado or the Reina Sofia… (well you are talking to the girl who has gone to Paris twice and has yet to even go inside the Louvre…). It is indeed extremely different to Barcelona, and although Barcelona is fabulous to visit, I wouldn’t ever consider living there, whereas Madrid gave me the vibe “Wow, I could totally see myself living here, but why it is so hot?!” So that was good. I’m pleased Madrid surprised me but I understand it may not be for everyone.

I stayed at SunGate Hostel which was in a fantastic location near Puerta del Sol and loads of shops. The vibe in the hostel was great and I met some truly lovely people to enjoy Madrid with. They do free evening meals every evening which proved to be popular but I didn’t manage to actually go to any during my stay. Still, after staying in the luxurious Gallery Hostel in Porto the week before, I wasn’t used to some of the issues with normal hostels and I was utterly disappointed with breakfast which was cold churros con chocolate and nothing else.

My first thing was to get some tapas at El Tigre. If you order anything there be warned, portions are massive. A tapa is more like a ración (sharing plate) and I ordered a plate of pimientos de padrón to feed 100 people.

That evening, I ended up going to the Templo de Debod at sunset which was the most perfect moment. As I was there on a Monday evening, it may have been less crowded than at a weekend which was great for taking loads of photos! The light on the temple was beautiful and it was amazing to look at as the sun was going down.

Me at El Templo de Debod

Me at El Templo de Debod

The following day I walked all the way to Retiro Park which is somewhere you have to visit when in Madrid. It was boiling but it was lovely to walk around and enjoy the quiet of the gardens in the center of the city. Next time, I am hiring a rowing boat on that lake!

Oh and what is Spain without a bit of frozen yogurt in the afternoon? Smooy were handing out an offer for a free extra topping on your frozen yogurt – perfection!

As I said, I also went to a cat café, but I was the only one there and the cats didn’t seem to want any attention as they were already so spoiled with affection and were quite moody. But there were free unlimited drinks which was much needed! It was right by the Reina Sofia which I intended to visit, but I was walking around ages trying to find the right entrance and I was exhausted -a siesta sounded much more appealing at that moment in time instead of walking around one of the most amazing art galleries in Spain (next time?).

After a well-earned siesta, it was time to go to the Hammam Al Ándalus baths which I wrote about here – the perfect way to relax during my final evening in Spain before going home!

The following day, my flight was not until late at night so I had all day to see more of Madrid. I took the Sandman’s Free City Tour of Madrid with my hostel, as I still hadn’t seen anything at all of the historical center of Madrid (cathedral, Royal Palace etc.). It was well worth it as Madrid has a very interesting history from humble beginnings which is not very well known. Plus, it only lasted 2 hours which was good as any longer would have been unbearable in the heat.

Next, I purchased some cookies from a Convent by talking to some nun’s through wall without seeing them which surely was an experience, with some new friends from the hostel. We also intended to visit the Royal Palace which apparently is even larger than Versailles (can you imagine?!), but it was closed for an official event which was a shame, so it is worth checking before you go if it is open to the public that day. It is no longer the offical residence of the monarchy but is still used for state affairs.

We made a quick detour inside the cathedral but I must admit, for being the cathedral of the capital of Spain, it is so ugly and it was quite sad. It has nothing on Barcelona, Sevilla, Salamanca, Toledo… the list goes on. It could be at the very bottom of a long list in all honesty.

We stumbled across the Mercado San Miguel on the walk back. It’s a beautiful building although quite small with a wide selection of stalls offering tapas, patisserie, wine and other products, but it does seem to be high-market and quite touristy.

It wasn’t long until it was time to head to the airport, to say goodbye to Spain for the forseeable future. Yet due to the air strikes with Ryanair, my flight was delayed an hour and a half and I didn’t manage to get home until 2am! Spain obviously didn’t want me to leave…

So all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Madrid and what I saw of it. I will definitely be returning in the future.

But for now, VOU PARA LISBOA (I’m off to Lisbon!)

Beijinhos (getting into the Portuguese vibe now),

Untitled

Hammam Al Ándalus in Madrid

Ever since my wonderful experience at the Hammam Al Ándalus in Granada (which I wrote about here), I wanted to return straight away! The Hammams are located in Granada, Málaga, Córdoba and Madrid, so if you find yourself in any of these cities, it is definitely worth booking in if you appreciate some well-deserved relaxation.

Unfortunately, I was living in the north of Spain, and therefore a minimum three-hour train journey from the closest Hammam (Madrid) which made it more difficult for me to return. I managed to prevail though, and squeezed in a return trip to Hammam Al Ándalus, this time in Madrid, during my first visit to the capital. It was the perfect treat to end my four months living and studying in Spain, the evening before flying home to the UK.

Relaxation Room

The Hammam in Madrid is excellently located in the city center, between Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor which makes it easily accessible and was only a five minute walk from my hostel.

After taking a walking tour during my visit to Madrid, it was interesting to learn that the city itself has a fascinating Moorish history which nowadays is very unknown; originally known as Mayrit, Madrid was founded in the 9th century. Its location in the center of Spain was no coincidence either – at that time, it was a crossroads between the divide of Christian North and Moorish South and therefore in an important defensive position, especially as it is slightly north of Toledo, which was the capital of Spain, to protect it from invasions from the north. Although the Hammam baths bring some of the luxury of Andalucía to the capital nowadays, the baths are in fact perfectly at home here in Madrid, which was once an Arab city with a mosque, souk and hammams, however much of this is now lost and Hammam Al Ándalus is the only hammam now in Madrid.

Still, the cathedral in Madrid, called “Almudena” although named after a medieval icon of the Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of Madrid, the word “Almudena” in Arabic translates to “the citadel,” and traces of Madrid’s Moorish roots are still to be seen. Therefore, a visit to the Hammam in Madrid is still a culturally enriching experience as well a relaxing one.

My hammam experience this time also started with a 15-minute full-body massage, and I chose the Red Amber oil again as I loved the scent the last time. In the Relaxation room you can find a “Fuente de té” (a tap that provides hot Moroccan Mint tea). I love the tea so much and I drank countless cups of it in between relaxing in the heated pools. There are three pools to choose from: cold (18°C), temperate (36°C) and hot (40°C) and also a steam room, my favourite being the hot pool. I enjoyed starting in the temperate pool, moving on to the hot, the steam room and then cooling off the with cold pool and a shower – I was not as brave as some of the other people who got fully submerged in the cold pool! It is just so cold.

As I went mid-week at 8pm, there were not as many people in the baths as there were when I went to Granada on a Friday evening. This was great as there were fewer people in the pools and I mostly had each area at a time to myself to unwind! I would definitely recommend booking to go during the evening as it allows you to relax after a long day of sight-seeing during the day and I fell asleep easily when I went to bed.

All I have left now is to check out the remaining Hammams in Córdoba and Málaga (hopefully sooner rather than later!), when I am in Spain in the future. I still hope they will expand and come to the UK – it’s cold here and we need some Hammam luxury please…

Hasta luego,

Untitled