Looking for the best of Espana? Whether you crab-crawl for a month, or shoot like a bullet in a week, its essence will only filter down to your soul after you’ve experienced this.
The Mezquita at Córdoba
The pride and joy of the small town of Cordoba, it’s a deceptively massive structure and you can take a long time navigating through it. Its half mosque, half church, and I went half-mad trying to negotiate it. But when I did, I found this almost as alluring and exquisite as the Alhambra itself, and that’s saying something.
The transition from mosque to church is subtle. You start off inside the mosque part, with its hundreds of columns, and slowly make your way onwards where the building starts showing altars. It’s such a blend that in the end you get confused as to what the hell it actually is.
Couple this with the quintessentially spanish town of Córdoba, with its tiny streets and rough cobble-stone squares, makes for a truly wholesome hispanic experience. Great places to eat, some of them small with only 6 seats to a restaurant – I just took my order and sat on the street outside with a giant tapas and no one for company but some beer and the blazing Spanish sun.
The hop-on hop-off bus from the bus station is the best way around this town , it takes you in a circle to the main historic spots and then brings you back.
Most people want to do Córdoba as a day trip from Seville, but it’s definitely worth a nights stay. The colour of this town melts into a golden – wheatish hue as evening approaches; the tourists have gone, the music played by every cafe changes and becomes some version of flamenco. The town is peaceful once again and you can then stroll around in half moon light through its incredibly narrow streets finding just the right place to sit and enjoy a typical long Spanish dinner.
The Flamenco in Seville.
It’s generic to this region and whichever performance you experience will be the original. If you’re lucky and a festival in ongoing (there are lots of them here) you might be able to see a semi-private performance. Something with less than 30 people in a small hall. Wherever you see it, private or on the streets, it’s an absolutely breathtaking experience.
A typical Flamenco performance during a festival. A small gathering of only 20 people and the performers are close enough to almost stamp on your feet. Exclusive and absolutely mesmerizing.
The other way is to see it is one of the numerous street performers across from the Seville cathedral. That entire street is lined with people playing flamenco music or opera performances. In the evenings a couple of us just sat on the steps and watched an entire array of musicians playing; from Beethoven to REM’s Losing My Religion.
The City for Science and Art, Valencia.
These massive and brilliantly designed collections of buildings are a piece of art themselves.Built in the shape of fluid ships, surrounded by reflecting pools, they showcase the genius of local Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candel . The architect in me was completely inundated with the wealth of its inventive design and in awe of the creative genius that created such a masterpiece.
The images do not do full justice to the sheer scale and virtuosity that hits you from every angle. It’s really not architecture as much as its pure sculpture.
Gaudi in Barcelona.
You can’t escape him, you can’t avoid him. Like your mother in law, he is everywhere. Every building of his is a jewel of nature-inspired design, like nothing you’ve ever seen before. You can read more about The Magic Of Gaudi here.
The La Sagrada is the culmination of his organic creativity processed over 40 years and is a masterpiece of design, whether you like architecture or not. Even after 100 years it’s still being constructed. From inside it’s supposed to look like a colourful forest; with the arches as canopies of trees, the buttresses as branches and light filtering through the entire forest that is created above you. There are very few buildings in the world that compare to this. Book online and early, as the wait for tickets is sometimes 3 hours long. The earlier you book, the better the timing slots you might get to enter. Late afternoon timing will mean that the lighting effects that the church is so famous for, would be missed. Also, include a visit to one of the towers in your ticket.
Oh, and get ready to walk for 2 hours with you neck tilted backwards.
The other buildings of Gaudi like Casa Batllo and Casa Mila are all walking distance from each other. If you take a hop on hop off bus tour (in Barcelona I’d recommend it very much, as the size of the city means that lots of ground has to be covered), these stops are already included. With the HOHO bus you can even visit Park Guell, which is a little further away.
Barcelona nightlife. Ibiza may be across the waters but Barcelona is easier to access, and with a more active and energized vibe. Take any one of the famous pub crawls that end at 5.00 am for breakfast. (I returned with one sock missing, but both shoes on, and holding the hand of a girl who, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure where I’d met. And, I was wearing someone else’s shirt. Some night!) The Spanish love for samba can be seen at every disco, regardless of music type. Additionally, the Spanish love for aggressive flirting and aggressive dancing will also mean that you keep your beer bottle close to your chest (unless you want it slapped out of your hands), and keep your date close to your side. (Infact, ask her to hold the bottle close to her chest and you keep both of them by your side. And please don’t ask me how I know this.) Some of the famous ones are Marmalade and 360 terrace.
The Beaches of Malaga.
The essence of this region of Andalusia, with its lazy and laid back attitude, typical of Spanish customs, is Malaga. The International Airport ensures that it is a favourite of tourists from the northern parts of Europe. Long stretches of beach, all walking distance from the town, makes this an ideal place to just savour the Spanish sun without encountering the craziness of Ibiza, or the cold waters of Costa Brava.
For most tourists this is the stepping off point for the beach towns further south like Nerja and Marbella, but if you want a good mix of fun and sun without the isolation that the other beach towns have, Malaga is a winner. There’s the Automobile Museum, the Picasso Museum and the Old Town to explore after you’ve turned your skin the right shade of orange.
The free tapas with every order in southern Spain.
I was just amazed. You order a beer, you’ll get a serving of tapas. You order another beer, you’ll get another tapas. Maybe a different one. After paying for a couple of beer you’ll realise that you’ve just paid for lunch too. (I wanted to ask this curly-haired spanish girl out in a crowded bar in Granada, just to see if it works with her friends too. But no, it doesn’t. It’s limited to tapas only. Damn!) As a typical backpacker, this is just amazing. And unlike any other dish, tapas can be made of anything. You’ll never get sick of it. Cheese, veges, meat, spinach, chicken, anything. I’m not really a foodie but I just loved this culture that they have. Pretty much anywhere in Granada, Seville, Rhonda or Córdoba you will experience this custom.
They say Spain is only complete with tapas and a visit to the Alhambra. Well, you can do both in one place – Granada. There’s a reason why the Alhambra palace is one of the most visited places in Europe, and that’s without looking through my architectural eyeglasses. Its sheer size and intricate carvings will make you look so closely at every wall panel, that you’ll need reading glasses by the time you get back home. (I was squinting the entire time!)
The gardens are beautifully maintained even 600 years hence. Book early and online, otherwise you’ll be one of the 300 people standing in line at 5.30 am outside the ticket office, instead of those laughing at them on the way inside. The earlier the time you get, the better, as you’ll require atleast 5 hours to see everything.