Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Here Be Dragons - Madrid to Cordoba
When Columbus set sail for North America from the coast of Andalucia, the map indicated unexplored areas with pictures of dragons. As the plane landed in Madrid, and I caught glimpses of the country, I felt like I was heading into unknown territory as well.
The ground looked white and dusty. Bare fields were studded with bushy olive trees. There were green escarpments, red brick housing estates, an old yellow brick minaret, and a white cross on a green hillside.
We were the only plane moving through customs, and it was amazingly swift. And I wasn’t treated like a potential terrorist as you are in the US – what a pleasure! I took the metro through Madrid to Atocha train station and realized how easy it is in our highly automated world to make your way without words.
Olives, Olives and More Olives
The high-speed trains in Europe are so comfortable, and it’s such a pleasure to look out the window at the changing scenery. My first delight was in seeing lush, green trees as there were only buds promising leaves in Saskatoon. My second delight was in seeing field upon field full of olive trees. They are short, squat trees with four or five bushy branches sticking out from the trunk like a girl with her hair in bunches. Some of the olive trees are clearly cultivated, while others have gone wild and cover the hillsides and are mixed in with a variety of other trees. There were entire fields stained red with poppies and white horses and a flock of sheep enjoying the shade of a large tree. As we got closer to Cordoba, there were tunnels and large cacti hedges and palm trees.
Not your North American Hotel
My hotel is a tiny three-storey building with approximately 12 rooms on a tiny side alley. My room is very tiny, but it’s also very clean with pink stucco walls and a hardwood floor. There’s a metal blind shutting out the sun and absolutely no view except for the white stucco wall that is almost within touching distance across the street. Natural air conditioning (open window) means that the room is full of the sound of children coming home from school or people out for the evening. But there’s very little traffic so later it’s quiet.
And, thank goodness!, I am outside the main tourist area so there aren’t busloads of tourists clogging the streets.
Vegetal does not equal Vegetarian!
My first Spanish language lesson won’t be forgotten. I hurriedly bought a sandwich ‘vegetal’ at the train station. It looked safe – lettuce, tomato, egg. Well, I’d forgotten that ham is one of the basic food groups in Spain. All they mean when they say that a sandwich is ‘vegetal’ is that it contains lettuce and tomato.
On the other hand, the Spanish love their sweets. I decided to have a hot chocolate before heading off to bed last evening. Well, it was in a cup and it was hot, but it was not drinkable! It was thick, rich chocolate pudding. Very tasty but not what I expected.
More about Cordoba itself in my next posting. Suffice to say that I am gloriously happy to be lost in a tangle of winding alleys and dead-end streets with dozens of tiny plazas, each of which have outdoor cafes. The photos show my hotel, a side street with children and their parents going home from school at lunchtime, and - the one with the most pedestrians - is one of the main shopping streets (the view from "my" ice cream store).