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Córdoba was the smallest of all the cities I went to on this trip, which was one of the reasons why I enjoyed it. Walking around this city reminded in many ways of visiting another city I love, Puerto Vallarta. You can see elements of where PV's architectural influence originated.
I spent two days in Córdoba, though the first day I had to do laundry and work. When I arrived to my hostel, I was awestruck at how beautiful it was. You could tell it was a newer place. The venue even had a gorgeous courtyard to hang out in. The crowd was considerably different, which included multiple families with little kids.
My second day in Córdoba was when I was really able to explore. The first stop I made was at the Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos (Place of the Christian Monarchs). I couldn’t believe it was just 5 euros to get in, and no huge lines. I really loved this one, and you could walk up to the top of the castle for some incredible views. Like the Alcazar in Seville, they have a beautiful garden here.
My second stop was the Mezquita, which was originally a mosque created in the 700s and was later converted into a cathedral in the 1200s. However, this mosque-cathedral still has original mosque decor as well. It’s a huge space! It’s kind of amazing to me to think about how these incredible landmarks have survived for so long. I mean, the original mosque portions are over 1,300-years old! That’s incredible. I know it’s not the oldest landmark on the planet but still very cool. The Mezquita costs 13 euros to get in, and while there were more people here, there wasn’t a long wait in the line to get tickets, and the line to enter once you had your ticket went quickly. Overall, though, Córdoba was much less busy with tourists. There are some, but it wasn’t nearly as packed as Granada or Seville.
My third stop was the Synagogue of Córdoba. This synagogue is actually the only one in Córdoba and is just 1 of 3 left in Spain after the expulsion of the Jewish population in 1492. I mean, it was nice to be able to see some remnants of Spain’s Jewish community but also really depressing to think about how that community was practically erased because of actions in the past.
After that, I tried to stop for a glass of wine at a bar outside in a plaza, but there were so many smokers. Seriously, what are the stats on lung cancer in Spain?
After finishing my glass of wine at the smokestack bar, I walked along the ancient Roman bridge in Córdoba, which first constructed in the 1st century B.C. At the end of the bridge is Calahorra Tower. This fortified gate was created to protect Córdoba and now is a museum. You can get in for 4.50 euros, and an audio tour is included with the price. While the museum was pretty neat, my favorite part was heading up to the top of the tower for some spectacular 360-degrees views of the city. And while all the other sites I had seen in Spain thus far were full of other tourists, miraculously, I was the only person up there when I went.
Well, my trip to Seville didn’t go exactly as planned. Unfortunately, I missed my original train. Note: don’t just arrive on time to trains here in Spain, arrive extra early -- at least a half-hour. Even though the train hadn’t left yet, they wouldn’t let me get on. There’s a lot to love about Spain, but their strictness and unwillingness to help in a situation like this felt kind of crappy. I have to say, this was my first experience missing a ride while backpacking, and yeah, it’s a huge bummer.
When I finally made it to Seville, it was sunny and hot. My hostel was just a 20-minute walk away, and like the others, these accommodations were within walking distance of all the important places to see in the city. While unpacking my clothes, I met a traveler from London, Gemma, who was super nice. Gemma was here visiting her dad, who is Spanish. I have to say, I’ve met more Brits here than I have Spanish people, ironically.
Anyhow, my first tourist was the Plaza de España. While it’s a gorgeous testament to the architecture of Andalusia, you might also recognize it from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones when Anakin and Padme are preparing to leave for Naboo together. It really is stunning, though, and a must-see place when you’re here. The only downside to this area, as well as other touristy parts of this city, is the horse carriage rides. I hate that we still have to deal with animals being used as entertainment like this. And in the heat no less!
While at the Plaza, I even got to catch an impromptu flamenco performance. That was super cool, just hard to actually see at first with all the people crowded around.
As mentioned, it’s very sunny here in Seville. I did not pack a hat, and I sure wish I had. You’ll want one. That, and lots of sunscreen.
After the Plaza, I snuck at peak at the former Jewish quarter, Barrio de Santa Cruz, which has some of the coolest streets here in Seville and is a popular area for tourists to shop, grab drinks, and eat food.
Walking around the city, I was amazed at the architecture. It’s like every city I continue to go to on this trip gets more thrilling to look at.
Overwhelmingly tired from a 6:30 am train ride I hadn't woken up for, I turned in for an early night, grateful once again to no longer be in a party hostel with 20-year-olds.
Because I had missed my original train to Seville, I also missed my reservation to the Royal Alcazar (palace) that’s here. I took my original ticket, though, and went over there at 9:30 am, hoping they might be generous and still let me in, considering I had already paid. Nope. Not a chance. “You must get a new ticket.” Well, rather than miss out on seeing one of the city’s main attractions, I opted to get a new ticket.
One thing to note about Seville is that it is busy, arguably more so than Granada. Barcelona is busy too, but you also kind of expect it there because of its size. The line to buy tickets is long, and they sell out fast. Ideally, I recommend booking your ticket online ahead of time. If you have to buy the same day, go as early as possible. They were already selling out time slots before 10:00 am. Also, the lines to buy tickets and to get in once you have one are in two separate areas. They’re not far from each other, but it’s sort of confusing if you’re new to it. This is also the same deal with the Seville Cathedral.
Even though it sucked having to spend the extra money, it was neat to see the Alcazar. The gardens there are huge but absolutely gorgeous. I even got to see several ducklings by one of the fountains in the gardens. That may have been my favorite part…
After the Alcazar, I ventured over to the Seville Cathedral and its accompanying Giralda Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally a mosque built in 1198, it was eventually turned into a cathedral in 1401. I originally went up in the Giralda Tower. It’s a climb but not too bad since it’s ramp walkways instead of stairs. However, it’s not a huge space, and there are lots of people going up and down, so if you’re claustrophobic, it might not be a fun time. Once you get to the top, you essentially have to wait for other tourists to move from a window space so you can look out at the views. Did I mention it’s busy in Seville? Seriously, if you’re ever worried about population decline, just visit a tourist destination. I also felt like other tourists here were very pushy, so that’s kind of frustrating too.
After the Giralda Tower, I went back down into the cathedral portion. It’s so big! Almost overwhelming. And it is also where Christopher Colombus is buried. Not to be confused with the great director of classics like Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
I like Seville, but it can feel overwhelming being around so many people, and I would imagine it’d be even busier in summer. My recommendation is try and go to these places during slower seasons. Also, something to note is that while it's warmer in southern Spain, it's still cold in the morning and at night in these places, so pack layers if you travel here in April.
Even though I had a rough start in Seville, it ended better than expected. My last Seville event was an authentic flamenco show at a venue called La Casa del Flamenco. The show I originally booked was for 8:30 pm, but considering I had a 6:50 am train the next morning, I was hoping I might be able to get into an earlier show. They were kind enough to let me see the 7:00 pm show instead, so at least there’s one place in Spain that will accommodate folks. The theater space was intimate and beautiful. The show included one guitar player, two singers (one male, one female), and then two dancers (also one male and one female). I had some knowledge of what to expect, but this show surpassed my expectations. It was incredibly passionate and exciting! Plus, it was 1-hour long, which was an ideal amount of time. This was honestly one of my favorite parts of my time in Seville, and it’s something you shouldn’t miss if you visit this city.
It was a short 1 to 1.5-hour flight from Barcelona to Granada. From the airport, I took a shuttle bus called ALSA to downtown Granada for just 3 euros. It’s pretty easy to find the buses. You just walk out of the airport, and you’ll see them across the way, usually with an accompanying line of people waiting to get on.
The trip into Granada isn’t much to see, but once you start going further into town, you can see where it starts to change and look more alive.
I took an early flight, which meant I couldn’t check into my hostel for like 4-5 hours, but they were nice enough to let me store my backpack there in the meantime. This hostel was hands-down way better than my Barcelona one for several reasons. One, it was more chill. Even though they have social activities, it’s not a party hostel, which meant that it was also much easier to get a good night’s sleep there. Two, the service was better. While I didn’t have any problems with the staff at the one I stayed at in Barcelona, I just felt that the people who worked at the Granada one were much more welcoming. Lastly, the other guests were much more friendly and willing to say “hi.” Granda is much smaller than Barcelona, so maybe it’s a small-town thing. Who knows?
Find out more in my honest review of the ECO Hostel in Granada.
My first Granada adventure was walking along the Carrera del Darro, a beautiful and well-known street here in Granada where you can find some neat historic buildings and get a view of the Alhambra at the top of the hill. I wandered into the Granada Archaeological Museum, which is 100% free! I definitely recommend checking it out since this city has lots of history.
From there, I ventured over to the Royal Chapel. Keep in mind all these spots are within walking distance of each other, so it’s easy to get around. The Royal Chapel was 5 euros to enter, and it’s where Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, arguably Spain’s most famous monarchs, are buried. They also have personal artifacts from the king and queen, such as their robes and the queen’s scepter and crown. To be fair, that crown didn’t look super comfy, so here’s hoping she didn’t have to wear it all the time.
One thing to note if you visit the area near the Royal Chapel is that there’s a group of women standing around there trying to scam people for money. They’ll give you a little plant, say it’s a gift, and then ask for money. They also get really close, so I don’t know if they just want money or are trying to pickpocket as well. Either way, just firmly say no, and they’ll stop. They may push a little, but be firm, and you should be fine.
My first day in Granada also included randomly catching an Easter procession. It was fascinating, and they definitely go all out. Kind of intimidating if you're not Catholic; all I kept thinking was how it reminded me of a scene in The Godfather Part II.
On my second day in Granada, I went to the famous Alhambra, a historic palace and fortress that boasts beautiful Islamic architecture and incredible views of the city. The Alhambra sits at the top of a hill, so it’s a trek to get up there. You can take the Carrera del Darro to make your way there, turning right and crossing the stream when you see the path going uphill.
I recommend buying your tickets ahead of time since this is Granada’s biggest attraction. Also, spring for the extra cost of seeing the Palacio Nazaries there. It’s totally worth it! Even though you’ll be milling about with a bunch of other tourists, you’ll be amazed at how stunning these buildings are. What I hadn’t realized, though, is that animals live at the Alhambra, well, cats specifically. Yep. When you visit, you’ll notice cats walking along the grounds. The cats are taken care of, and it’s enforced that people don’t try to touch them.
One thing to remember when visiting Granada is that while it’s hot during the day, it’s still very chilly in the morning and at night. This may not be the case in summer, but at least in April, you’ll want to bring a warm coat for the mornings and then a t-shirt for the daytime. That being said, you may start working up a sweat anyway trying to climb that hill up to the Alhambra…
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Sleep Advisor, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com