Part 3 – Southern Spain….Granada, Córdoba and Toledo

My final Spain blog consists of the third part of our 17 day road trip this summer.  This was new territory for all of us and considerably hotter than the north of Spain.

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Part 3: Barcelona south to Granada and Cordoba , then north to Toledo

Leaving Barcelona, we embarked on our longest travel day so far – about 550 miles/900 km to Granada, estimated by the internet at about 8 hours.  Well, it took us more like 11 hours, but we had the obligatory two hour lunch stop and stroll through the old town in Elche/Elx along the way.  We arrived in Granada about 8 pm and met our Airbnb host outside of town, as driving in the city is heavily regulated and parking is difficult to find.  She took us to our apartment in the Albayzín neighborhood, which is on a hill and practically car-free and still has a bit of a Medieval Moorish feel to it.  Our first evening, we tried Salmorejo, and I will never look at cold soup the same again.  This stuff is pureed bread and tomatoes, topped with bits of ham.  Thick and creamy, like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.  And for the rest of the trip I had it everyday.  My parents even made it from scratch with their tomatoes when they got home.

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View from our toasty terrace, if you turned around and strained your neck a bit you could see the Alhambra in the other direction.
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Alhambra at night
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Touristy street right near our apartment
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Waiting to go into the Alhambra

So the main attraction in Granada is the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex full of incredible designs and architecture.  We booked ahead and got early morning tickets (for the best light as you should know – and the heat).  We also got tickets to the Nasrid palace for the first available slot, which allowed us to tour the palace when it was less crowded.  The complex dates as far back as the 9th century, but many of the structures were completed in and after the 13th century.  Muslim art bans the use of people in their pieces, so there is a lot of geometry and calligraphy in the ornate plasterwork and ceramics.  It is an incredible place to visit, with beautiful and intricate buildings, lush green gardens and amazing views of the city.

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After a long lunch and the obligatory siesta, we wandered around Granada some more before heading up to the top of the Albayzín to watch the sunset over the city and get some night shots of the Alhambra.  And then Riki got his seafood fix with giant bowls of snails and a huge plate of octopus in a small plaza nearby.  I almost wish we were those people who take pictures of food, because this was an epic meal.

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Our last overnight stop before heading back to Madrid was in Cordoba, a mere 2 hours from Granada.  The trip was filled with rolling hills covered in olive trees as far as you could see.

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For some reason we thought we could forgo the obligatory siesta when we arrived in Córdoba in the afternoon.  So we wandered around the old quarter for a bit before the heat took its toll and we had to return to our apartment for a late afternoon siesta.

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Riki broke out the tripod for some night pics of the Mezquita

Córdoba was conquered by Muslim armies in the 8th century and eventually became the capital of al-Andalus or Islamic Spain.  It was very multi-cultural, with Muslims, Jews and Christians integrated.  This is highly visible in the main attraction – the Mezquita, which began as a small mosque and later a Catholic cathedral and is an incredible example of Moorish architecture.

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The Mosque part

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The Cathedral in the middle
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Mezquita interior

We toured the Alcazar here as well, but there was very little information provided, though it was pretty and the gardens were well kept.

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Wall in the Alcazar

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On our final full day in Spain we drove a few hours north to Toledo, which is just outside Madrid.  Toledo is set on a hill, with limited access for cars, but a great set of escalators that allows you to easily navigate right up to the heart of the old town.  Toledo is a UNESCO site and also has Jewish, Muslim and Christian heritage.  The Romans were here and it was once a Visigoth capital.  Because of its proximity to Madrid, it is full of daytrippers and that is heavily reflected in the number of tourist shops around town, way more than I remember from my first trip over ten years ago.  But it is obvious why it is so popular.

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We ended our 17 day trip back in Madrid, with just one night in town before headed our respective ways.  This whole thing was really an amazing experience and my writing doesn’t do it justice.  But hopefully the pictures do.  I have never done so much research ahead of time, but in the end it made the whole thing go much smoother and was less stressful than our normal “just wing it” mentality.

We have to thank my Spaniards for getting married and being the catalyst for this adventure.  But we have to thank our drivers, my parents, even more for giving us a reason to make such a long trip out of it.

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