A day in Cordoba

When we planned to go to Andalusia, I knew I desperately wanted to go to Cordoba, seat of Moorish power with its history and unrivalled architecture. It also evidently has the best Spanish omelette in the region, next to the Mezquita with a massive queue of locals.

Roman bridge in Cordoba landscape

Mills of the Guadalquivir

We spent a lot of time around the river, exploring the old mills. I was fascinated by the bridge seemingly newly refurbished, but built on Roman foundations.

Walking to the Mezquita, Cordoba

Ancient water wheel on the Guadalquivir, Cordoba

Wandering around this tiny, ancient town there are surprises everywhere. We saw remains of the large walls and massive gates, but like the other Andalusian towns, once you get off the tourist trail there is an amazing array of urban decay and tiny streets. The smallest street I’ve ever seen nearly caught a small SUV out, but with horrible squeaking of tires against the walls they managed to free themselves. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many photos off the beaten trail. I got the I’m tired, my camera is heavy, I want my own bed travelling cranky syndrome that day.

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Climbing the Giralda

After the cool, dark interior of the cathedral, climbing the spiralling ramp up to the top of the Giralda, you feel a bit like Simba in The Lion King, blinking afresh at each window, waiting for your eyes to adjust to the bright Andalusian sky. An alternative to rehashing a classic children’s movie, there is a feat of travel to accomplish by attempting to dig out your sunglasses without dropping your camera down the side of the largest cathedral in Europe.


When climbing up the tower, there are periodic interruptions to what would otherwise be a rather tedious climb. They have some small exhibitions on the history of the tower as part of a Moorish mosque, see the orange grove below, a typical feature of (former) Mosques in this region. There are also displays on how the bells at the top were lifted to their place, archaeological evidence, etc.


On the way to the top, there are also windows from which you can view over the top of the cathedral getting spectacular views of the architectural construction of the building. And you can make friends with the permanent residents of the cathedral.





As cool as climbing the tower is, the views from the top are what you really came here for.






It is nice to be back on the ground though!

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Ferrara Balloon Festival

Every year, in Autumn Europe’s hot air balloons descend upon Ferrara, in northern Italy. The 2013 festival has just started and as much as I would like to be there, I’m not. However, here are some of my photos from the 2008 festival.







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An afternoon spent at Seville’s cathedral


After spending the better part of some days walking around the cathedral, spending time in the square near it (marvelling at the statue of Pope John Paul II !!) and seeing the silhouette of the cathedral everywhere we went, we joined the queue and went inside.



The architecture is massive. The ceiling seems so far above your head that you almost feel like you’re outside except that it’s cool and dark whereas outside it is neither of those things.




The stained glass windows are really cool, continuing the tradition of ‘presenting’ the church in the window to a higher power with clear references to the reconquest of Spain where the Moors and Islam was chased out of Christian Spain.

However, I’m really just assuming that this is the case based on the history behind similar windows. The audio guide would have probably confirmed or denied this, but I consistently refuse to buy or to listen to audio guides. (They really annoy me and make other people walk around like zombies.)




One of the coolest things was the grave of Christopher Colombus. Well, in theory, they’re not totally sure where he is actually buried, but I think Seville won the argument on the basis of a really cool tomb.


After viewing the gorgeous architecture, it was time to climb the Giralda.

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Seville’s Alcazar

During our 5 days in Seville, we spent a very hot afternoon exploring the Royal Alcazar. Rivalling the more famous Alhambra in Granada, the preservation of the Moorish architecture, tiles, and gardens is (and I don’t use this word often) stunning.


At one time, it was part of the defensive structure protecting Seville. The walls are formed of huge stones that would dwarf everything around it except that the cathedral is just in front of it.


A rather unassuming entrance to the glamour found within the defensive walls.



The tiles are one of the defining features of the Alcazar and form the basis for some amazing (and tacky) souvenirs all over the city. The tiles and the water features also keep the rooms surprisingly cool.


I love that the plasterwork that is found within and without the palace looks like lace. It is so delicate.



The gold ceiling of the Hall of Ambassadors was my favourite room. The delicacy and richness of the gold and tile-work almost took my breath away.



There is room after room both interior and exterior and each one is a little different. Each one is covered in beautiful tiles and plasterwork, balanced by the ideals and mathematics of Islamic architecture with a hearty dose of the dramatic, at times.





There are also extensive gardens, but I was hot, hungry and tired so we only explored a little bit.


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Spanish Holiday: Seville

After months of planning, agonising over hotels, Spanish train websites and navigating Gatwick Airport, we arrived in the first city on our mini tour of Andalusia – Seville. This is where I learned that when English doesn’t work, Italian sometimes does but it’s not very pretty. I am useless with Spanish.


This guy didn’t mind my poor Spanish skills.



While Seville is in Andalusia, an autonomous community in Spain, and is in a lot of ways, very Spanish, Andalusia has a very obvious Moorish and Arabic influence. The Alcazar was absolutely gorgeous.


The Giralda is the jewel in the eye of Seville and used to be a minaret on the Moorish city’s mosque.




The inside, however, is very much of the European tradition.


The Torre del Oro is another manifestation of the city’s Moorish past. It also houses a pretty cool Maritime Museum reflecting the great shipping tradition of Seville and lots of model ships.


I found the neighbourhood of Macarena the most interesting. indie shops, cool graffiti and a bit less touristy.


The juxtaposition of the new Parasols in the old quarter of Seville is really cool. There is this new, modern structure next to crumbling buildings and traditional architecture.



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Why I like staying home too.

The last few and the next couple of posts have been and will be about travelling to far away places. I love travelling to far away places, medium away places and I also like to stay at home. Even bearing in mind that I live in London and you can basically travel the world within the M25. However, I think you can see cool stuff just about anywhere (and I have some experience in this from growing up in central Pennsylvania.) Here are some reasons why I like staying at home too.

The trains out my window – including the Orient Express.

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Sunsets, anywhere.


Hidden beauty.

New discoveries.

Jubilee Line

The pub.

Day 21

Sitting still.


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Andalusia in 10 mobile phone photos or less

I have returned (reluctantly) from my Spanish holiday and mini inter-railing experience through Andalusia via Seville, Cordoba, Granada and finally Gibraltar, “Britain in the Sun.” I’m still going through photos from my proper camera, so here is a review of Andalusia in 10 mobile phone photos or less.





It's the weekend! But I'd still rather be back in Spain. #travel #granada



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Mantova, Mantova

It’s the prime time of year for getaways. Unfortunately, my holiday is now over and I will be sharing the photos very soon. (Promise!) In 2008, I was lucky enough to spend a semester abroad and one of the day trips we took was to Mantova (Mantua).  Typical of many tiny towns in Italy, Mantova is absolutely packed with history and culture, but has it’s very own ‘feel’ to it. Another powerhouse (along with Florence and others) of Renaissance art and architecture in the Palazzo Te, Palazzo Ducale, and the great church designed by Leon Battista Alberti.

Mantova 7

Mantova 9

Mantova 13

Mantova 15

Mantova 18

Mantova 19

Mantova 21

Mantova 24

Mantova 27



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New Year’s Goal: Reading

I think I was a little bit ambitious when I set my goal of reading 10 new books. To date, I have read four. However, I loved all of them.

I read two history books. They’re both massive, so I think they should probably count for more.

The first book of the year that I read was The Inheritance of Rome. A fantastic history of early medieval Europe. It’s pretty dense, and I found the most interesting chapters to be the ones based on geographical areas I knew better. So, for me, the chapters on the UK and Italy were the most interesting. I found the Spanish chapter to be a bit slow going but that’s because I know next to nothing about Spanish history. I’m glad I stuck it out though!

More recently, I read another European history book, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half- Forgotten Europe. This is another book that’s broken up into distinct chapters, each one focused on a former and almost unknown state. For some reason, the chapter on Byzantium was about 5 pages (a big disappointment) and the chapter on Aragon (in Spain) went on for what seemed like forever. Again, I’m glad I stuck it out though. The author cleverly references earlier chapters later on when discussing related kingdoms or states. (A teacher never misses an opportunity!) These books with distinct chapters are really good for commuting. I can usually get to a natural stopping point before I have to change trains.

I read one book on the Tube (whilst on the Tube). (This may come as a surprise.) Called Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube, it is a fairly new addition to the great body of varied quality literature on London Underground. I really liked it and found it to be a fast read. Broken up by line, it covers its interesting history with some anecdote thrown in. I learned a lot of new facts, which can be quite a feat to achieve. This is not to say that I’m an expert,but that most books on such subjects, because they’re so popular, tend to say the same things.

Finally, I read a book on murders in Paris. Crime Album Stories is a strange mix of fact and fiction. Based on a small archive of early police photos of murders in Paris, the author wrote a somewhat factual story about each one. Full of gory photos, it also has some great, albeit heartbreaking stories about the sad lives of murdered and murderer. I would recommend taking it slow to avoid the paranoia that comes with reading about murders/serial killers/ etc. or watching too much CSI.

And for the record, which might bring my goal a bit closer, I’ve read a lot of travel books for reasons that will soon become clear, in fact I will be officially on holiday as of tomorrow. See you upon my return.

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