I walked back to the street I had come from, reached the near side of the Alcazar and then turned left, there was also barriers covered with the black sheet. I walked close to the barriers and saw a small walkway opened for the pedestrians. I came on the other side of the barriers and I saw a female jogger coming behind me and she did the same thing. The Albulafia was on my left hand side but access was closed. So I decided to go on the right hand side on Av. del Alcazar. While I was walking there, I came across more joggers, most of them were women. I knew it was a hot day and people needed to be in their sports gear for jogging. But I saw couple of the girls wearing such cloth where I would doubt that it was hot weather to blame. Perhaps, it was the Andalucian beauty to blame? Then, I saw a little opening on the left hand side with olive trees around it, as I came closer, there were stairs going to the river bed, I decided to try my luck. There was a guy coming from the opposite side. I took the stairs to come to the river bed level and managed to walk few meters but the river bed was blocked by the tress and the bushes and it was impossible to reach the site. I could see the water mill few meters ahead of me. It was too close yet too far. So I decided to go back to main road. I went to the blockade in front of me (going towards the bridge), put the camera through the grill and took few photos. It seemed that some sort of road work was going on (though it was stopped for the Evening).
The Watermill of Abulafia
This mill is situated next to the Roman Bridge on the northern bank of the River Guadalquivir. It was built under Abd al-Rehman II to carry river water up to the Emir's palace by means of an ingenious aqueduct. The nauria or water wheel has been restored, it was dismantled by order of Queen Isabel 'La Catůlica' who disliked the noise it produced so close to the Castle, the royal residence. Since the 14th century, this water wheel has appeared on the city's coat of arms.
Two very different musicians
It was getting dark now; I decided to go back to the hotel. As I approached the Roman Gate, there was a girl of twenty or so, playing violin. She was playing it brilliantly; there were few people around here. She was in summer dress and the Mother Nature was more than kind to give her the physical beauty as well on the top of violin skills. She had very rosy cheeks and the summer dress and the combination of the youth was the right mix for the listeners. When I passed the bridge, the old guy whom I had seen earlier in the day was still there but no one was around him. Now bridge was packed with the tourists.
I saw few more water mills in the middle of the river; they seemed to be in ruins. On one of the walls of the ruins, there were few birds were resting. In the far distance, I could see the hotel I was staying in and on top of the hotel roof, there were few people. I came to the reception, there was a middle aged guy, I requested for an iron and ironing board to be brought up in the room. He told me that it would be organised for me. Then I asked him if could get some ice? He told me to go the bar. I came to the bar and asked the barman for some ice, he went behind the counter and gave me a shopping bag with ice inside. It was practical thing to do but I wasnít expecting in a hotel of that calibre that ice would be given in the shopping bag?
I took a quick shower and then had few glasses of cold water and now I decided to go on top of the hotel roof. The view was breath-taking; the lights under the Roman Bridge and the Mosque were lit. I managed to take one of the best photos of my trip so far. I saw a young couple sitting in one corner of the roof and they were drinking red wine. There was no light on the roof, so as I was walking, I tripped and almost fell. Then I came to the reception and asked the guy about hilal restaurant.
Yes, but what is halal, he asked me?
It is called kosher as well, I explained.
Kosher, he repeated my words.
I need a Muslim or a Middle Eastern restaurant, I asked him?
After thinking for a moment, he turned to me.
There is no halal restaurant in this area, you will need to go to the city in order to eat, he told me.
OK, thatís fine.
I know an Arab restaurant; it is located on the river side. Actually you will need to pass the mosque and take a long street; it will be there, beside the river.
He took out a map from the drawer, encircled the area and gave it to me.
I thanked the guy for his effort and decided to go to the city again. While I was walking on the bridge, it was much quieter now, there was a fresh breeze blowing and Evening was very pleasant. Some of the candles under the statue of St. Rafael were lit now. Probably prayers were offered already. Then I reached the first wall of the mosque, I turned right, took another right which brought me to Calle Cardenal Harrero. I was walking on Calle Encarnacion. There was no sign of the restaurant I was looking for. I asked an owner of a Chinese restaurant for the direction, who was smoking outside the restaurant. He looked at the map and pointed towards the street and said that I was only two minutes away from my destination. I walked and reached Calle Rey Haredia but there was no sign of the restaurant. I thought may be this restaurant was in a small ally or something. I approached a Spanish waitress who was standing in front of a cafe bar. I showed her the map, after thinking for few moments, she told me that there was no Arab restaurant in that area and she advised me to go back.
I started to walk back once more; I was very hungry and tired. There were only tapas bars in the area. There were some people who were selling coupons on the streets. Most of them were about the discount prices of the bar and the restaurants in the area. I tried to locate that illusive restaurant once more; I asked another waiter who was standing there. He didnít have much English and my Spanish never took off and after hand signals and gesturing, I decided to keep going back. Then all of sudden I remembered about Bilal, whom I had met in the afternoon. I looked inside my pockets and found his card which he had given me. I was so happy to find his card; it was like I had found a gold mine. I walked on Calle Cardenal Herreo once more and went straight through it. Now I was entering La Juderia, I took right turn and I saw a sign for the restaurant called Petra. I was more than happy that my quest for the dinner was over.
When I entered the restaurant, there were five or six tables in the area and chairs were arranged around some of the tables while some of them had couches. The covers of the couches were of the Middle Eastern style with embroidery and beautiful marking on them. I saw Bilal there, who was sitting in a small room next to the main room. He came over and shook my hand with excitement and asked if I wanted to have a dinner? I would have been the unhappiest person in the world if I would have said no. Bilal brought the menu to me and asked me what I wanted to had? I told him that I needed to check the menu first. He told me that he was asking about the drink. I told him that I was more worried about the food than the drink. I told him to give me five minutes. There were few good Middle Eastern dishes there but there were lots of specialty coffees on the menu. There was a couple sitting on opposite of my table, waiter came over with a tray in his hand and he poured coffee in their glasses in very Arabic style. He raised the pot so high in the air that girl sitting on the chair was almost scared. But she enjoyed the coffee circus for sure. There was another couple sitting on a couch, which was against the main wall. The guy looked much older than the girl. The girl was no more than 25 but the guy was well over forty. I thought that they could be father and daughter but I was going to get the answer for myself.
The restaurant had very low ceiling but the interior was nicely decorated. The street outside the restaurant was on higher ground. It looked that the building was there for a good while. There were people on the street, who would come to the front door of the restaurant to check the menu and then they would leave. Bilal was back to my table again.
I ordered the food which was a grilled chicken, rice and the Andalucian salad was my starter. Then Bilal asked me what I wanted to drink?
I will take club orange, I told him.
Club orange, he was somewhat surprised.
Well, if you donít have club orange, you can bring me a coke please, I added.
I thought, maybe you wanted different drink, he explained.
Thank you that will be enough for me.
It is up to you to decide but I have very good quality drinks, Bilal informed me.
I might take tea at the end, but for the moment I am fine, I questioned his drink proposal.
He felt little silly now but no damage done. The guy with the young girl took out a camera and started to take her photos. The girl was striking different poses for the photos; some of them were very innovative or provocative. It depended what school of thoughts the person was from? Then girl took the camera and started to take photos of the guy, though he didnít pose much as compared to her. Then they moved closer to each other and guy moved his hand on her leg in very seductive manner. I wasnít interested in that game anymore. I was just curious about the relationship and my curiosity was over.
My Andalucian salad was very nicely presented and it was based on different ingredients of local origin. The main course came with the round bread and rice. The rice was pilau and had very strong creamy flavour. I wasnít a food critic or anything like that; all in all it was a good meal.
The couple who had bought Arabic coffee was American now they were talking very loud. While the other couple was becoming more intimate now. I went to Bilal in a smaller room and asked for the bill. He gave me the bill while I was standing beside the till. After paying the bill I walked back to the hotel. When I reached at the bridge, the breeze was much cooler now and I felt that my eyes were getting closed. I reached my room and hit the pillow straight away.
The Cordoba Mosque
Next Morning, I woke up early again and I was going to visit the Mosque. When I left the hotel, it was 8:10am. On reaching the bridge, I looked back, the early sunrays of the Morning were playing hide and seek with the clouds. Its pale Morning light was hitting the outer walls of the Mosque. The birds were sitting on the trees inside the Guadquilvir River and they were making noise or busy in singing. It was a pleasant Morning. I stood there for a moment or two in order to absorb the beauty of tat splendid day. The bridge was free of people; it was all too quiet but the birds. I wanted time to freeze there but I wasnít going to happen.
I passed the minaret of the mosque and entered into the courtyard. There were lots of orange trees, I had passed so many times in front of the door yesterday but I never came inside the courtyard. I wanted to delay the visit till today.
The outside doors and Facades
The north side is the main faÁade and looks onto Calle Cardinal Herrero with the Puerta del CaŮo Gordo and the Puerta del Perdon (the Gate of Forgiveness), next to the Cathedral bell tower. Turning left at the corner, towards Calle Torrijos, brings to the west front with the Puerta de la Leche - the Milk Gate - followed by the Puerta de los Deanes - the Deansí Gate - opposite the San Sebastian Hospital, which was opened during the emirate of Abd al-Rehman II. Following along the street are the Gates of St. Stephen - the oldest giving access to the temple - St Michael and the Palace Gate. There are no portals on the south faÁade, but there is an interesting Renaissance stone balcony and a frontispiece that served as a penitential station during Holy Week. Then comes Calle Magistral Gonzalez Marques. On the east side are the Puerta del Sagrario (Gate of the Shrine) and the Puerta de Santa Catalina (Saint Catherine Gate) one of the three current entrances to the monument, the other two being the Gate of Forgiveness and the Deansí Gate.
The Courtyard of the orange Tree or Patio de los Naranjos
This big open space is where the Muslims used to perform the ablutions before prayer. Over time, it has been greatly altered; now it is flanked by arcades, and two fountains play in the shade of orange trees, palms and cypresses. The fountains themselves bear the names of trees - cinnamon and olive - the latter, particularly, being the subject of many legends and romances. Alongside the main entrance to the courtyard, above la Puerta del Perdon - the Gate of Forgiveness - rises the bell tower erected at the end of the sixteenth century over the Arab minaret.
At the Puerta del Perdon - the ďGate of forgivenessĒ - rises this, the tallest tower in Cordoba. It is 54 meters in height and it has 203 steps. These evolve around the old minaret of Abd al-Rehman III, from which the muezzin called the faithful to prayer and which is preserved inside the Baroque structure.
When I came to the entrance of the Mosque, there were two guards. I asked them about the ticket. They informed me that it was a free entry at that time in the Morning, so in that case Bilal was right.
The Prayer Hall
From the Orange Tree Courtyard, access is by way of the Puerta de las Palmas - the Palm Gate. Stepping inside this great complex, which today covers an area of 24,000 square metres, one would be struck by the darkness that engulfs the interior, there were lights over few columns but they werenít enough to light up the place. There were only fifteen or twenty people inside the building. It was so quiet that I could hear my footsteps.
The forest of columns that rises in this area is a paradise of stone designed and built by the best architects of the time; it was an unprecedented work that influenced the future of Islamic architecture. Within the nineteen naves, rise 856 out of 1013 columns with shafts of all imaginable colours and forms, above which curve horseshoe arches topped with semi-circular arches, reminiscent of those of the Roman aqueducts. The ochre hues of the stonework alternate with the red of the brickwork, creating an effect of an incredible petrified palm grove.
I stood next to a column with my head against it and gazed all around the mosque, as far as my sight would allow me. Inside the mosque or cathedral, there was a mass service going on. Above the people, there was a small balcony and a guy was sitting and playing the piano. There was a priest, who was walking beside the people. No entry or photos were allowed of that area, there was a security guard, who was telling people to stay away.
Additions to the Mosque
The city of Cordoba was the largest in the West; the Mosque underwent several extension projects due to the growth in population. The first one was carried out between 833 and 852 by Abd al-Rehman II. A further enlargement project took place between 961 and 966, under the authority of the caliph al-Hakam II. Al-Mansur undertook the last extension project on the great Mosque of Cordoba, which resulted in a doubling of its size and the decentralising the mehrab. This enlargement is marked by red tiles on the floor instead of the marble
The mehrab, the wall that the faithful face to pray, and the maqsura, an adjacent space reserved for the caliph, are a veritable demonstration of decorative and architectural refinement. The first is octagonal, with a shell-shaped dome, and glitters with bright floral mosaics and Arabic inscriptions created by Byzantine artists sent over by the Emperor in Constantinople. Above the maqsura glistens the most beautiful dome of the Mosque, made of marble and covered with mosaics.
Museums inside the Mosque
Inside the mosques, there were small museums of San Vicente Museum, Cathedral Treasury and San Clement Museum. The last one, which located in the Al-Mansur extension, near the qibla wall and the sanctuary, this museum exhibits Arab and Christian works. Among the oldest pieces are the Umayyad tombstones, the edge stone of a well and numerous decorative fragments from the Mosque portals. The Arabic items include the Caliphate capital of the Al-Mansur extension, while
The Christian works include the sarcophagus of Alfonso Fernandez de Montemayor and the tomb of
The canon Bartolome de Leon. The eighteenth century bell mechanism from the clock tower is also on display.
When I came out of the mosque in to the courtyard of the Oranges was full of crowd as well. I was more than happy that I had come to the mosque very early because there were groups of tourists everywhere and some of them were like in a fair rather than a visit to a historical city. I hadnít had my breakfast yet, so I went to the restaurant where I had my lunch yesterday. I wasnít feeling that hungry, I ordered the food but didnít eat much and asked for a tea. The waiter brought me boiling water with a tea bag inside. I asked him that I need sugar and milk as well. He moved like a robot and he was back in no time with both ingredients. I was taking sips of the tea and looking at the restaurant wall which had lots of plants hanging on its' wall in Cordovan style.
After paying the bill, I walked outside the restaurant and then slowly in the street. I entered a souvenir shop and bought a mug of Cordoba. I went to another building on the right hand side to check out the beautiful courtyard it had.
Now sun was shining brightly and I wanted to go back to the hotel. The old man who was playing violin on the bridge was already there. I looked at the river, the water was moving at its own pace. My feet were becoming heavier and heavier as I walked back to the hotel.
Good bye Cordoba
After collecting my bag, I came to the reception, paid the bill and took the lift which brought me to the car park. After coming out of the car park, I took right, and then taking four more left turns it brought me on Av. Fray Albino. The mosque was on my right hand side. I slowed the car down a little bit, and had a last look at the monument and then I pushed the accelerator. I came to a roundabout and saw a sign for Grenada and turned the car on that road. I hadnít bothered to put the details of Granada in the GPS, I wasnít using it even.
The road, which I was driving on twisting and turning, it would go up and at the next moment, I would be going downhill. I saw a village on top of a hill with a tower. I couldnít resist the temptation, stopped the car on one side and took few photos. It was getting hot; I was turning air condition on from time to time. I stopped at a petrol station to refill the fuel tank and bought few juices and soft drinks from the shop. Until now, I had mixed feelings about my journey from Cordoba so far. I wasnít sure if I was upset to leave Cordoba or I was happier to go for Granada. It was hard to tell. I entered the hotel details in the GPS and hit the road again.
Arrival in Granada (Garnata)
I looked at the road signs, which were telling me that I was getting closer to Granada. I would glance at the GPS from time to time just to make sure that I was on the right track. I came off A44 and now I was driving on Ave. Juan Pablo II, which was going to bring me to the hotel, then GPS announced that I should turn to my right, which I did, and according to the GPS, I had reached the destination. But, there was no sign of the hotel there, there were few apartments on my right hand side and that was it. I looked at the car's rear mirror. Behind me was a girl in a sports car with an open roof, I would say same thing about the owner as well (apologies, If I caused an offence). I came out of the car and tried to speak to her In English. She didnít understand me, and then I showed her hotel address and name on booking confirmation. She old me with the hand signal that I needed to drive back to the roundabout, straight through it, and then hotel would be on the next roundabout.
I reversed the car and came on the main road, Ave Juan Pablo II again, crossed the roundabout and now I could see the hotel close to the next roundabout.
There was street parking available on the right side of the hotel. I parked the car there and went inside the hotel to inquire about the car park. I was told that was a car park but I had to pay for it. The girl at the reception also mentioned that I could park on the street for free. It wasnít a bad idea either, but I didnít want to take any risks with the rental car.
I drove the car straight on to the roundabout, did a full turn and then turned to the left side and another left brought me in front of the car park. I pressed the bell and the reception staff opened the gate for the car park.
I took lift to come to the hotel lobby, which was full of a group and they were having lunch (I think restaurant was next to the non-existent lobby). After necessary paper work, I was given the key to my room. The room was fabulous, overlooking Granada city and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the far distance. I couldnít ask for more. The minibar in the room had just bottles of water so I stored my stuff which I had brought at the petrol station.
Now I wanted to go to the city because I needed to collect my city pass which I had booked online. I could collect this pass tomorrow but by the times offices would be open, it would be too late for me to visit Alhambra Palace. I asked the girl at the reception to give me a city map and also which busy would bring me to the city centre?
Bus to Granada city centre
I came out of the hotel, in front of the city's main bus stand; I waited for bus number 3. I told driver by showing him the address of the place that I wanted to go, because I didnít know at which bus stop I needed to get off. He gave me a dirty look and told me to sit down in a very rude manner. I wasn't a happy chappy but there was very little I could do apart from sitting in the bus and hoping for the best.
There were three girls sitting behind me, they were talking to each other in Spanish. I thought they are young so they might speak bit of English (Driver's problem wasn't the English language), I explained them the trouble I was in. One of them told me that they were going one stop next to mine and she would tell me when to get off. I wanted to give her a big hug but decided not to go ahead with my plans, in case I make the driver angry again.
Then one of the girls informed me to get off the bus. I thanked them and came out of the bus. I stood there on the side and tried to work out the location of the tourism office. The bus moved on, there wasn't much traffic on the road, even though it was in city centre but the roads were big and clean and city looked magnificent.
I walked for five minutes and found myself in front of a huge building. It was the main tourist office of the city, located at Plaza del Carmen. There was also attached police station on the right hand side which wasnít on my places to visit list. I turned to the left and waited on a couch. There was a guy on the reception, who was explaining something to a girl in Spanish. That guy was around 25 or 26 years of age. He had long hair with a French cut beard decorated with heavy moustache. He looked more of a film character from the nineteenth century than a receptionist. From time to time, he was twisting his moustache with his hand while he was still talking to the girl. Nice one buddy.
When guy finished with the girl, he looked at me and told me to come over.
Hello, I asked.
Hi, which language would you prefer, Spanish or English, he asked?
If you speak English, I will be more than happy, I requested.
No problem, so what can I do for you, he asked me.
I am here to collect my tourist pass?
Do you have a receipt or confirmation number for me, he asked.
I gave him the confirmation and he looked at it for a while and then entered some numbers on the machine and punched a card and then turned to me again.
Do you need any information about the city, he continued?
Yes, please, I replied.
Then he gave me a piece of paper, which had all the opening and closing hours of the famous places. He also added that I didnít need to join any of the queues once I had my city pass with me. He also told me that I needed to give coupon to the Hop-on and Hop-off bus agents in order to get the ticket. Before, I could leave, I requested him if he could encircle some of the areas on the map? He was more than happy to assist me. I had a list of things to do in Granada, I was pointing out the names of the places and he was encircling the area. I had written names in English and from time to time he would struggle to find the alternative. Letís be honest an average tourist wouldnít come to him with notes in his hand?
I was thinking what to do first? I had couple of hours to kill so I decided to visit the science park of Grenada, when I walked out of the building, crossed the main road and went on opposite side. I wondered around in the older part of the city. I would say it was rather aimless. I went to Plaza de la Trinidad. The Plaza had gardens and some tapas bars. Then I took right turn and after walking through the narrow but well-kept streets, I came to the la Cathedral, which was next to Gran Via de Colon. I took bus number 1 to go the science park. I took the bus and gave the city pass to the driver because it also covered few bus journeys as well. He needed to activate the pass first, he tried and tried again on the machine but it didnít work. Then he pressed some random buttons. He told me that the card wasnít activating. I kept quiet because I knew nothing about the system. Then he produced a ticket for me accompanying the card. I went back to the bus to take a seat.
The Science Park
After few minutes' ride, the driver shouted, ďScience ParkĒ. I got off the bus and crossed the road. There was a tall tower in front of me, which had ants on it (not the real ones). There was a balcony on the top of the tower for viewing. I saw a statue of Einstein on a bench which was outside the entrance door. I did say hello to Mr Einstein but he wasnít interested in conversation.
I came to the reception area and requested for a ticket to the Planetarium. I was told by a girl at the reception that I had to pay extra for the Planetarium because it wasnít covered by the card. Then she dragged her chair closer to the computer screen.
You should come back tomorrow, she told me.
Why is that, I asked, somewhat surprised.
Because there is only 90 minutes left in the park to be closed, thatís why you should come back tomorrow.
I am sorry but I have to visit today, I resisted her temptation or ill advice.
Well, you pass will be valid for tomorrow as well, you can come back, if you would like?
I want to see it today, and I also want to see the Planetarium because I will be busy tomorrow.
Ok, then you need to pay me for the Planetarium, she replied.
I gave her the money and she turned to me.
I can give you ticket for the show at 6:30pm, she explained.
I want to see the show at 5:30pm, now it was turn to be the boss.
She scratched her nose and then she gave me ticket for 17:30 show.
Then I went straight to the ticket checker. He told me to turn on the right hand side and then a door will bring me out to an open area. Then I would see a tower with ants, after crossing the tower, the Planetarium building should be in front of me. I followed his instructions and reached the Planetarium.
A girl with a smile on her face came to me and said something in Spanish then she switched to English.
Are you here for the Planetarium?
Yes, I am, I replied.
Can I have a look at the ticket please?
I gave her the ticket, after checking the ticket. She told me to follow her.
Have you ever seen the Planetarium before, she asked?
No, itís my first time, the only thins which I had ever come closer to the Planetarium was, its name, I replied.
OK, today's show is about Moon Landing and this show will be in Spanish language. She explained.
In Spanish language, I repeated her words in protest.
I donít speak or understand Spanish language, I told her about my limitations.
Then, what you want me to do for you? She asked me.
Well, you should do something, I replied in a silly way.
Ok, I will see what I can do for you but you need to come back at 6:30pm, that show is about the inner core of the Earth, she explained.
Is that documentary is in Spanish language as well? I asked.
Yes, it will be in Spanish language but there is a possibility that we can change to English. Just to let you know that our all shows are in Spanish language.
OK, that means I will be looking at the photos then, I told her.
Yes, you can enjoy the photos in the show, and she gave me a smile of a witch (I hope, she wasnít the real witch).
Now we had reached the stairs which were leading to the dome.
Please, stop here, I will be back in few minutes. She told me.
After few minutes, she came back and told me that she had spoken to the technician and he had informed her that if there was no Spanish person in the show, then he would show a programme about the inner core of the Earth in English. I told her that she was being very understanding and nice to me and if she could try to get a programme about the evolution. I will be singing a song for her (I was lying). She looked at me and thought what type of tourist and science enthusiast I was? She smiled and told me to wait again.
She came back after five minutes and told me that the technician had agreed to show a programme about the Evolution in English. I was really thankful of her that she had managed to accommodate everything for me.
I took the stairs and came inside the dome. All chairs were set in round shape and in the middle of the dome was a huge stand with lots of projectors on it, actually 110 of them which would show almost 7000 stars.
Evolution documentary in Planetarium
Inside the dome, it allows simultaneous control of opt mechanical systems and digital projection to provide a very real picture of the sky. One could fly the 360 Universe. The Cosmos, from any
point through technology. It was a journey of science, technology and a remarkable voyage through space and time, filled with stunning, high-definition footage showing not only images from space taken by observatories around the world, but also the remote and beautiful locations of the individual stars, and those in in the groups. Their formation and how those stars had led people to navigate in the past through the darkest of the nights.
After leaving the dome, I came out of the Planetarium and now I was going to go on top of the tower. After getting inside the waiting area (for the lift), I looked around in the rom. It was full of photos of different towers, which had different designs around the world. Then lift came down, there was a girl inside, who was operating or advising people when to exit or enter the lift. That lift brought me to the top of the tower and front of me was the whole of Granada.