Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: town

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 🙂

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Ely, a detour from Cambridge

A very brief post on my trip to Ely, a city in England that is 20 minutes away from Cambridge by train, making it a perfect (half-)day weekend trip. Ely is known as a “cathedral city”, but it wasn’t only the cathedral that made the visit more than pleasant. It was here that my love for smaller cities and communities was accentuated, as you will see 🙂

There are things that don’t interest me much anymore when I travel (castles, for example) and other things that I don’t think I can ever get enough of (nature, high places, etc.), and cathedrals are one of the rare things that I’m undecided about. Sometimes I feel like every cathedral is the same, but the grandness of some of the ones I’ve seen has truly and genuinely amazed me. Of course, the primary motivation of going to Ely was to see its gigantic cathedral, which was the symbol of the city. And magnificent it was – I must admit that I was impressed.

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How small is the smallest town in the world?

Speaking of extremes, I’ve been to a few “extreme” places in Europe: Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point on mainland Europe, and Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands (debated by Maastricht). For this post: the world’s smallest town – Durbuy, Belgium.

HOLD ON. I think Hum, Croatia would kindly like to disagree. Perhaps ex-Buford in Wyoming, USA would disagree as well. There really isn’t much factual evidence that Durbuy, Belgium is indeed the smallest town in the world, although that is the small Belgian town’s claim to fame. Maybe it USED to be the smallest town in the world, once upon a time, but not anymore? Who knows?

Just how small is the “smallest” town in the world? A car ride into the hidden little place (thanks to Yi-Shiang & co.) would show us what it’s all about!

Durbuy is literally hidden in the forests. I think we were driving for some 20 minutes between rows of trees surrounded by tiny creeks and rivers, as if we were venturing into an unknown existence deep into the innermost parts of the woods. And suddenly, out of nowhere at all, the town emerged from behind the trees. I felt like we found the entrance to Narnia or something. First impression of Durbuy: it reminded me of another small town that I’ve visited, but I can’t remember which one… >_<

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The 12 months of Saint-Émilion

With the visit to Saint-Émilion in October, I have checked yet another item off my bucket list: to visit Saint-Émilion in every month.

Saint-Émilion really is a lovely place that I never get tired of visiting. Whether it’s bringing friends from out of province to see its medieval beauty, or just getting away from the city for a few hours by myself, I can always enjoy the little town’s exquisite atmosphere in every season. The surrounding vineyards never cease to amaze me, and there seems to be a never-ending maze of narrow streets through which I can leisurely navigate without turning back.

With the help of a simple collage creator (no need to mess with tables 😉 ), I compiled some of the pictures that I took during each trip to Saint-Émilion in hopes of capturing its essence in every shot. There were some disappointments (no snow this year!) but oh, how it mesmerizes me, even today!

January (Jan. 20, 2013)

I went with the intention of capturing Saint-Émilion by night. In January, it was usually “dark” by 6:30, which was when some of these photos were taken, but not dark enough. Unfortunately I had to catch the train back to Bordeaux (the one after would be two hours later!) and so this was as close to “night” as I could get. The streets were almost isolated without a soul to be seen, but I loved how the calmness contrasted with the tourist-filled atmosphere of the summer seasons.

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A mission in Portugal, part 2 – Óbidos

The second part of the Portuguese mission took place in a little place called Óbidos some 80 kilometres north of Lisbon. I wanted to visit Sintra, but some of the IDS-FunMates have already been there (5 times for Carole!) So we decided to go somewhere that nobody had been to, and Óbidos it was! Originally it was supposed to be only Carole and me, but Tomin, Lo, and Tuyen joined after a little bit of convincing (or none at all). The more the merrier!

Óbidos is a medieval town that was once a wedding gift from a king to her queen, marked by a castle and surrounded by aged city walls. It was similar to other medieval towns I’ve been to, like Carcassonne and Saint-Émilion, and a fun place to spend a relaxing Sunday 😉

A sign at the entrance gate of Óbidos for the medieval market that takes place in July and August. Óbidos has been a national monument since 1951. Another sign says, “It shelters the oratory dedicated to the patroness of Óbidos, Our Lady of Piety, concluded in the 17th century, with remarkable tile covering from 1740-45.”

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