Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: Spain

Stop to smell the oranges…in Córdoba!

During the Easter holidays, I travelled to Portugal and Spain with some buddies from Canada. When I asked my Spanish colleague for ideas of day trips from Madrid, I learned about the Andalusian town of Córdoba, having considered Segovia and Valencia previously. My colleague, who is actually from Valencia, instead brought up Córdoba and strongly recommended it, mainly telling me about the Mezquita, or the mosque-cathedral of Córdoba. Well, you don’t refuse a Spanish when he provides a suggestion on where to go in Spain, so it was decided that Córdoba would be our day trip – although neither I nor my two companions knew much about Córdoba at all. But that’s OK – wandering is half the fun!

Even having done some research on the attractions a little bit beforehand, it was clear that the Mezquita is what brings most people to Córdoba. The Mezquita – or mosque – has a rich history behind its gates. Known as the mosque-cathedral of Córdoba, it was originally a cathedral but was converted into a mosque when Spain was under Islamic rule. After the Reconquista, when Spain fell under Christian rule, the Mezquita was converted back into a cathedral and remains so till this day. The ubiquitous columns and arches that line the interior of the Mezquita were its highlighted features. Made of jasper and marble, more than 850 of these pillars stand in the Mezquita, and walking through the arches makes it feel like you’re traversing a city itself. With that said, the interior of the Mezquita was huge! It certainly fooled us from the outside, and I lost my companions more than once. You could imagine how hard it was to find them under dim light in a crowded place!

Back in town, my friends and I decided to explore Córdoba a bit. We met an American lady at a tapas market in Madrid who visited Córdoba before arriving in Madrid. She described Córdoba as “quaint”, and while I think that the word “quaint” is often overused to describe small, charming towns, you can’t deny that it is an appropriate word. And it is often these places that are quaint and picturesque towns that attract me more than the big cities.

My friends and I were confused when we saw these figurines. OK…please don’t blame us for our ignorance, but wouldn’t one very easily associate the costumes worn by these figurines with those of the KKK? Of course we had to figure out the significance of this seemingly strange occurrence. As it turns out, every year around Easter (which was when we went), during what’s called the Holy Week festival, processions take place whereby people are dressed up in these hoods to commemorate the passion of Christ. It’s been a tradition around Spain, especially in the Andalusia regions, of which Córdoba is a part. It has nothing to do with the KKK, none at all. So, there’s our mystery solved. At least we learned something new, right?

For lunch, we sat down at a small restaurant serving local food. One of the things that we ordered was “salmorejo cordobés”, a specialty that originated from Córdoba. Even though we already had it a previous evening in Madrid, it was so good that we wanted to get it again. Salmorejo was a blended purée made of tomato, bread, and garlic…probably lots and lots of garlic. It is then garnished with diced cured Spanish ham and chunks of a hard-boiled egg. Since the taste and smell of garlic was so strong and rich, I liked to have it with lots of bread (even though it was probably meant to be just a cold soup), which was a delicious combination!

An interesting phenomenon that I noticed as I was walking around Córdoba and one of my favourite things about the visit was the scent of oranges everywhere. Oh, it smelled so wonderful! It’s like having slight traces of fragrance following you all over the place, but unlike the strong perfumes that I can’t stand, it’s a most natural scent in the refreshing breeze. Not surprising, as we saw orange trees in many areas of Córdoba and really had to resist picking a few oranges to eat 😛

Crossing the Roman bridge, we arrived on the southern bank of Córdoba where we were able to look back and see the Mezquita from a distance. Then it became obvious that Córdoba was very…orange, or yellow. The houses lining the quaint streets, the columns in the Mezquita, the orange trees…even the salmerejo was orange!

Soon it was time for us to leave Córdoba and head back to Madrid. Walking along the Guadalquivir river, we headed back into the old town and out toward the train station, ending our day trip in this Andalusian town full of history and surprises 🙂

Day trip in little Toledo

When I travel to one place for a sufficiently long period of time (typically more than 3 days), I like to look for small cities or towns nearby my main destination and make that a day trip. During a week-long trip to Barcelona, my friend LS and I took a half-day trip to the nearby Girona. A 4-day getaway in northwestern France brought me to Pornic, an unexpected little corner of the country where I spent two hours. Of course, when I went searching for Mr.DS in Lisbon in April, I visited the medieval town of Óbidos for a day.

For Madrid, the detour was made in Toledo, a little medieval town 70 km to the south of Madrid. I had decided that I would definitely go for a visit, whether anyone came with me or not, after my oral presentation at the conference. After all, I finished it on the first day, and had nothing to worry about, woot!

So to Toledo I went, ultimately with some of my conference buddies and we unfortunately missed the train that we were originally going to take because it ran out of seats as we were making reservations. Boo 😦 So then we waited two hours for the next one. The trip was quite short, taking only 33 minutes from central Madrid. We arrived and took a shuttle bus that took us from the train station to the city centre, which is situated on top of a gigantic hill. I would have loved to take the walk, but with a baby and a stroller in our party, the bus was a much more practical alternative on a hot day.

On the way to the city centre, we saw the Alcázar of Toledo in a distance on top of the hill. The wheels on the bus went round and round, and up and up we went 🙂

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Madrid, end of summer

Last week I was at the annual European Society for Biomaterials conference which took place in Madrid, Spain. This would be my last conference before the PhD defense, or shall I say, conference/vacation. Since the thesis rush began in May, I haven’t been travelling much during the summer. That was why I decided that I should make the best out of this conference and take some time to relax before the defense creeps in.

And yes, I have finished writing my thesis, the preliminary draft, at least. Copies have been sent out to the jury and now I am just waiting for October 14, doomsday AKA the pre-defense in Belgium. (I won’t go into detail about the pre-defense and public defense, but just know that the pre-defense is much much much harder than the public defense.) I really should start preparing, but after sending out the thesis, I was hit with a feeling of “now what?” It almost feels like I’m denying the fact that the defense is coming up so soon, sort of like how I was in denial of ever having to write a thesis. Let’s hope this denial phase disappears soon.

Anyway, about the conference, this was my third time in Spain in three years. As it turns out, it was not only an academic experience, but I met new friends and more than anything, this was an unexpected trip of gastronomic indulgence, as you will soon see.

We started our sightseeing around Puerta del Sol, an area in the Madrid city centre. Nearby Sol was the gigantic Royal Palace of Madrid, one of the city’s most recognized landmarks.

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Basque Country part 2: San Sebastián

This series on the Basque Country is not in chronological order. I wanted to write the San Sebastián post before La Rhune and Biarritz, while it is still relatively fresh in my mind, since it was such an interesting trip.

So, San Sebastián. It is a city on the Spanish side of the Basque Country known for its lovely beaches. I am truly willing to say that I liked it more than Barcelona, the only other big city in Spain that I have visited so far. Before going to San Sebastián, I got the impression that it was a small, touristy city that would require no more than one day to experience. In fact, I was going to stay only one night and head back to Bordeaux the next day before Mariel suggested staying two nights. I’m glad I took her advice, as San Sebastián had much more to offer than I had anticipated!

From Biarritz, Mariel and I hopped onto the PESA bus that took us directly to San Sebastián. The ride itself wasn’t particularly pleasant – it was the first time after a very long time that I got carsick (or…bus-sick, if there is such a term?) I believe it must have been due to the rough roads from Biarritz to San Sebastián, though I couldn’t be sure because I was half asleep during most of the trip.

We arrived at night, found our hostel, dropped off our belongings, and headed out to dinner right away. The real exploration started the next morning, when we decided to stroll along the riverside and head up Monte Urgull, a hill right in the midst of the city between the two beaches, Zurriola and La Concha.

We climbed up Monte Urgull at a very leisurely pace, occasionally stopping to enjoy the view of San Sebastián. From Monte Urgull, the entire crescent of the Bay of La Concha could be viewed, and all of San Sebastián was laid out right in front of your eyes.

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Spain part 2 – Girona and Vilanova

While roaming in Europe, travellers realize that many gems are hidden in small, lesser-known towns and municipalities. Whether it’s in terms of food, culture, or atmosphere, it’s a completely different experience visiting big tourist cities while compared to quieter, less popular destinations. That was why aside from Barcelona, friend LS-san and I decided to visit a random city nearby on days 2 and 3 of our trip.

First, it was a choice between Tarragona, Zaragoza, and Girona. Taking into consideration travel time and cost, we decided to venture to Girona on day 2, a Spanish town north of Barcelona approximately an hour and a half away by train.

As for day 3, we headed to Vilanova i la Geltrú, a small town which took us about 40 minutes to get to from Barcelona. It was an accidental discovery, actually. The moment I saw Vilanova i la Geltrú on the map, I knew there was something familiar about it. Later I remembered seeing its name on the trams of Bordeaux, thus realizing that it is in fact twinned with Merignac, a suburb of Bordeaux. So naturally, we figured we’d go take a look.

The town of Girona, with houses along the Onyar river as seen from the old bridge. The colours of Girona remind me slightly of Lisbon, bright and pastel.

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