Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mosques, Black Sand, and Sun Tans

This past weekend, 24 through 27 June 2010, a MSU friend and I went to Malaga and Córdoba, in the south of Spain. Because the buses in Spain are crazy, there is no bus directly from Madrid to Córdoba, so we had to take the midnight bus Thursday night to Malaga and then round-trip between Malaga and Córdoba. I am convinced that we will never have a normal bus ride in Spain. On the way to Malaga from Madrid, there was a guy behind us who spoke a little bit of English, would eavesdrop on our conversation and say "oh yeeaah" every time he heard one of us say "yeah," would leave every so often to smoke a cigarette in the bus bathroom, and would poke my friend's face every time she fell asleep. He also brought beer with him on the bus, which made him more annoying at first, but was a blessing in disguise because he passed out for the second part of the trip. After getting about one hour of sleep on the bus ride, we arrived in Malaga early in the morning. Since we were busing to Córdoba in the evening, we had no place to store our backpacks and walked around Malaga with all of our belongings.

We visited the house where Picasso was born, Castillo de Gibralfaro, and the Picasso museum on Friday (the cathedral was closed to visitors for a holiday). The house was small, but had some unique artifacts in it. Around the corner from the Picasso house, there is an amazing pandelería that had the best and cheapest pastries either of us have had thus far in Spain (they had discounted prices between 8:00am and 2:00pm). After the Picasso house, we climbed the pathway up the mountain with all of our gear to reach the castle at the top. The view of the Mediterranean Sea from the castle and the hike upwards was incredible. After climbing all of the walls and towers of this small castle, we made our way back down the mountainside to visit the Picasso Museum. It was really interesting to see the breadth of Picasso's artistic ability - far beyond the Cubism paintings for which he is most famous. We then walked around Malaga a bit more before returning to the bus station to catch our connecting bus to Córdoba.

From Malaga to Córdoba was probably the most normal bus ride yet, but it had so many different stops in tiny, obscure places that we had difficulty figuring out where/when we were supposed to exit. In Córdoba, we Senses & Colours Seneca Hostal, which was actually a very nice hostal. We met a couple from the United Kingdom (Belfast and London) who had been in Córdoba for a few days and showed us around the Judería neighborhood (a really cool neighborhood with lots of narrow, winding streets), the mosque, and the center of the small city, where we watched the soccer game between Spain and Chile. Córdoba was very different from Madrid and the lack of people on the streets felt like a ghost town. On Saturday morning, we visited the mosque (it is free at 8:30am). The mosque was incredible. When the Muslims were expelled from Spain, the mosque was converted into a cathedral - the Christians tore down the dome and added a Gothic belltower, chapels, and some gothic touches around the mosque's walls. However, the layout of the mosque is completely different than Spanish cathedrals; hence the proper name is the Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba. However, all of the pamphlets about the mosque just labeled it as the Cathedral of Córdoba.

After spending a lot of time wandering about the mosque, we visited the Alcázar right next to the mosque with some of the most beautiful gardens so far in such a building, the arched Roman bridge behind the mosque, one of three synagogues remaining in Spain (the other two are in Toledo), and an old Jewish house that served as a museum about the Jewish history of Córdoba.

Córdoba is also in the running to be named the most historic city in Europe in 2016. They have started the campaign to get signitures already, so like a good tourist who likes history, I signed their petition. The people working the table outside the Alcázar were so excited that I had signed it (and spoke in Spanish with them) that they just kept trying to give me free stuff from their booth. I turned down the flyers, but I now have buttons, a pen, and some cool postcards. Finally, we had to catch our bus back to Malaga.

In keeping with the tradition of crazy bus rides, there was a group of guys in the back of the bus who kept speaking very loudly. One kept laughing like a hyena. Turns out, they ended up staying at our hostal (Residencia Malaga Backpackers). Pretty much the only thing going for this hostal compared to all of the others we have stayed at so far is that it is close to the beach. We also learned the lesson that if one stays in a hostal with good showers and bathrooms, one should take advantage of this and use them. This part of Malaga was also not a place to be walking around at night, even with other people. Nothing is open at night and there are no people around. Additionally, Malaga is like the rest of Spain and has a chronic lack of well-placed street signs. However, right on the beach close to our hostal is this amazing Italian restaurant called Pizza Pino's. They had very good, cheap food, so we went there twice. The manager/owner loved us and kept giving us free drinks each time. On Sunday when we went back for lunch, he asked us if we were coming back that evening and we felt very bad that we had to return to Madrid. After spending all day Sunday on the beach in Malaga (the Malaga beaches are famous for their black sand - not caused by oil spills) with our SPF 50 sunscreen, we caught the bus back to Madrid.

The story would almost be over, save for the last quirk of the bus adventure. Because the bus ride back was about eight hours, there were two in-bus films shown. The first one was a dubbed over version of The In-Laws, with Michael Douglas. The second film, Imagining Argentina, was with Antonio Banderas and was about the disappearances in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. It was a very good, but extremely graphic film, making my friend and me question the judgment involved in selecting this movie for the bus ride. The English trailer is below; we watched the film dubbed over in Spanish. The good thing about Antonio Banderas is that he does his own dubbing and so it is easier to watch than listening to another actor's voice.


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