Córdoba: Lessons in Train Travel, the Inevitability of Getting Lost, and the Kindness of Spaniards

Thursday afternoon, two of my roommates, Alayna and Courtney, and I decided that we wanted to take a day trip this weekend after all, despite our original plan of using this weekend to get settled with school, rest from an exhausting two days of classes (which isn’t that bad, except that operating completely in a foreign language you’re not fluent in is draining), and perhaps think about working on senior thesis projects and résumé updates (can’t take the perfectionism out of a girl, no matter what country she’s in). But classes are Monday-Thursday, and we wouldn’t need three whole days to organize our lives. Besides, how many times will we have the opportunity to live in and travel through Europe for 5 months? Gotta take advantage of the chances we have! We were planning to go on Saturday, but a rain forecast switched our plans to Friday instead.

Yes, the most type-A, by-the-book, plan-every-tiny-detail girl ever decided to take a trip to a city that she doesn’t know the day before the trip. If you know me well, or at all really, you’re probably thinking who am I and what have I done with the real Stephanie. She’s still here, just trying to learn a little spontaneity and live by her resolution to say ‘yes’ to opportunities. Within some confines of reason, of course.

We decided to go to Córdoba, Spain, about 90 minutes northwest of Sevilla and still in Andalucía. Once the center of the Moorish al-Andalus, Córdoba is a product of Arab, Roman, and European history. Alayna sat next to a woman from Córdoba on the plane to Europe, and the city came highly recommended from our host mom as well. In May, Córdoba is famous for its flower festival, but that happens to fall the weekend before finals.

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This was my first time using a European train system. Now that I’ve done it, it doesn’t seem so bad. And let me open this story by saying that I did actually research the train line, the location of the Córdoba station, etc. in advance. The only problem was that the information available and the information I needed were not the same.

We left for the train station at 5:40 AM. Sevilla’s train, metro, and bus system work together and share stations, but the metro doesn’t open until 6:30, so we had to walk to the San Bernardo station. We wanted to make sure we were early for our 7:24 train since it was our first trip. (Yes, the train schedules are that specific, and they are frighteningly punctual). Leaving early turned out to be helpful when we realized that the station we thought was ours was in fact only a bus station, and the station we needed was a pretty long walk into a more urban district of Sevilla (we followed the above-ground metro tracks to make sure we were going the right way). Eventually we made it to the station, figured out how to validate our tickets, and boarded our train at 7:24. Next problem: the Córdoba station that I looked up wasn’t on the list of stops inside the train, but we were positive it was the right train. And it was, but I asked another passenger and he told me that we had to take this train to the end of the line and then change trains. Glad when we booked the tickets that was made clear. Oh wait…it wasn’t stated at all.

When we arrived at the end of the line, at the Lora del Río station, there was no sign with arrivals/departures and platform assignments. So we went to the only person working there to ask…which meant that we unknowingly invalidated our tickets since we had to exit the terminal in order to get to him. We figured out which train was ours the hard way: sneaking back to the platforms with other passengers and sprinting as we saw our train coming, and we just missed it.

Y’all, Spain has some really, really nice people. Somehow I was able to calmly explain our problem in Spanish, and the man at the ticket counter put us on the next train to Córdoba, with no extra fees, no problems, and incredible patience with my Spanish. He even walked out of the office to the platform to tell us our train was slightly behind schedule and would be there in 10 minutes, making sure that we knew where we were going. We encountered even more nice Spaniards after the tourism office at the Córdoba train station gave us not-so-clear directions and we ended up in the opposite direction we wanted to go. When we asked for directions in a small grocery store, both workers helped us, the people in line didn’t get impatient at all, and another woman in line stepped up to help explain with our map. Faith in humanity restored.

Once we got some caffeine (tea with hibiscus and olive…interesting. Strong, but pretty good) and found our way, the real fun could begin. Córdoba feels a little more urban and modern compared to the heart of Sevilla, so Moorish and Roman relics were literally smack dab in the middle of the city. Among the sites were the Torre de la Malmuerta, the Cristo de los Faroles, and the Templo Romano, the latter of which was swarming with, oddly enough, stray cats. I wish I were joking about that.

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Torre de la Malmuerta
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Cristo de los Faroles
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Templo Romano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two more prominent sites in Córdoba: La Mezquita-Catedral and the Real Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. La Mezquita-Catedral, an old mosque/cathedral, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The courtyard was filled with streets made of rounded, moss-covered stones; orange trees; and tons of people just hanging out with an important piece of history. We came back here for lunch with our bocadillos para llevar, sandwiches to-go—picnic for history nerds! The Alcázar had beautiful gardens that I believe were a Roman style, with small fountains feeding into large rectangular pools lined with, you guessed it, orange trees (they are all over Andalucía).

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La Mezquita-Catedral
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La Mezquita-Catedral
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La Mezquita-Catedral
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Real Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
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Real Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

Crossing the Puente Romano over a swamp-like river, we went inside the Torre Calahorra, where there’s a museum with a neat history lesson about 13th Century al-Andalus, when Christians, Jews, and Moors lived together in peace.  Perhaps today’s world could take a page from that book. Steep spiral stairs led us to the top of the tower, were we had an awesome view of the city, the countryside in the background, the river, and a Roman market below.  The market turned out to be mostly touristy, but we did see a man hand-carving chess sets, whole roasted pigs (gross), and enormous loaves of homemade bread, cheese, and donuts (I didn’t snap a picture, but trust me, biggest donut I’ve ever seen in my life).

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Puente Romano
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Mercado Romano

 

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Puente Romano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For dinner we met up with some other TCU friends for tapas and sangria in the Jewish Quarter. They found a restaurant with a Moroccan-style indoor courtyard and tons of old black and white photos lining one wall. We shared patatas bravas/ali oli (potatoes with different sauces), abóndigas (meatballs), and croquetas de cocido (a type of ham). It rained just a little bit in the afternoon, so as we walked back to the station, we got to see a beautiful sunset and a rainbow, reminders that even if a journey starts out with challenges, it can end on a great note. An even better note when the guy at the train station tells you that your return trip doesn’t require you to change trains.

-Steph

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Me, Alayna, and Courtney at the Puente Romano

 

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