I bought two tickets for a single bus ride out of Seville. It wasn’t because I had picked up a surprise companion – much to my disappointment. Rather, I’d booked a seat online to avoid being bumped off my preferred travel time, only to be told at the station that they couldn’t find my reservation on their system. The credit card charge had gone through, the actual ticket hadn’t. Since the attendants couldn’t understand much English and my knowledge of Spanish was limited to baño, gracias, and some random words I’d picked up from Duolingo, I bit the bullet and coughed up another 14 euros – this time in cash.
For the budget-conscious traveler that I am, that sucked. But as they say, charge it to experience. Let go and move on. And I did – on to the flowery city of Córdoba.
I’ll let you in on a secret. Whenever I travel alone, I’m torn between hoping I end up without a seatmate (that’s the introvert in me talking) and hoping I have an attractive one (I know, I know. Apologies). While neither of that usually turns out to be the case, I’ve come to appreciate another kind of seatmate – an interesting one. That’s exactly whom I found on that nearly 2-hour bus ride.
Here’s another secret: I suck at names. I’m pretty sure his name was Juan Miguel, though. He was probably in his late 30s, slight in frame, with a gentle voice and quite good English. He was nice. I’d been paranoid about leaving my backpack in the luggage compartment, and it was too big and heavy for me to cram into the overhead storage, so it ended up on my lap. He never complained. Instead, he told me how he was traveling to Córdoba particularly for its Fiesta de los Patios. As was I.
He was a local of Salamanca, and when he learned that I was backpacking around parts of Spain, he gave me tips. “Book your ticket to the Alhambra online,” he said. “Do you have an old student ID? Use that to get a discount. Entry to Sagrada Familia is expensive.” We exchanged stories about our travels until the conversation tapered off to companionable silence. I didn’t see him again after we parted ways at the bus station.
That’s one of the wonders of traveling I’ve discovered, particularly while doing it solo – how it brings my path to cross someone else’s. In that space in time, I feel in tune with that person. Whether that meeting spans a bus ride or lasts a week across multiple cities, that person leaves me richer and wiser than I was before. And yes, that holds true even when the encounter isn’t the good kind.
I could say a lot about Córdoba – how its people welcomed me into their homes with warm smiles; how its patios positively bloomed with flowers, scents, and character; how its buildings spoke of its colorful, varied history. More than that though, let me tell you how Córdoba came to feel a bit like home. A foreign storybook kind of home, for sure, but home all the same. Part of it’s because my hostel was so awesome (shout-out to the folks of Córdoba Bed and Be – more about them when I get to my post on hostels). But really, it boils down to the company.
Joining the hostel’s night out was a spur-of-the-moment decision for me, and it was one of the best ones I made the entire trip. At first, I stuck close to one of my roommates as we had a round of tapas at a nearby bar, but as we walked down the streets of Córdoba – with our host Jose sharing some trivia along the way – I slowly got to know the rest of the crew. We did the usual “what’s your name, where are you from” round of introductions, then compared travel itineraries, swapped tips, joked over accents, and talked about our different cultures. We went from a brightly lit mercado packed with rugby fans, their eyes glued to the TV screens, to the nearly abandoned Roman Bridge, which glowed a soft yellow in the dark night.
The next day, a bunch of us headed to the Mezquita first thing in the morning to get in for free, then met up with the others for a free walking tour. That was the most company I’ve had since I started my #CUrope2016 trip – and it was a blast. Though we came from different parts of the world, spoke with different accents, and carried different beliefs, we shared that same love of travel. That same hunger to experience as much of the world as we could. We’ve gone our separate ways, but I know our paths might just cross again. In fact, I met up with my French hostelmate Quentin during his recent trip to Manila. Thank God for Facebook.
Córdoba may not be the grandest or most popular city I’ve traveled to, but I’ll remember it as the one that blossomed with flowers and friends.
So if something as annoying as getting double-charged happens to you during your travels, take it with a grain of salt. It might just lead to amazing things.
Recommended things to see in Córdoba:
1. La Mezquita
The Mezquita put Córdoba on my list, and truly, its immense walls only hint at the wonder within. With row after row of peppermint-striped arches, a jaw-dropping gilded mihrab, and wooden screen windows, this mosque turned cathedral is a stunning tribute to Córdoba’s strong Islamic roots. Enter for free between 8:30-9:30AM on Mondays to Saturdays, otherwise pay €8 for an adult ticket. Note that if you go for the free entrance, you’ll be asked to clear out by 10AM, when they open for paying visitors.
2. The Patios
Córdoba’s famous for its Fiesta de los Patios held every May, the timing of which I took into account while mapping out my travel route. Originally built for natural cooling given the city’s hot climate, these central patios have taken on a life of their own. Take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to explore these private patios, which enchant and amaze with their bounty of flowers, fragrances, decorations, and water features.
3. Calle de las Flores
If you aren’t in town for the annual Patios Festival, get a taste of the city’s floral flavor at this narrow yet charming street. The Calle de las Flores offers a lovely peekaboo view of the Mezquita’s tower, as seen above.
4. Roman Bridge
Remember how I spoke of Córdoba’s rich history? You’ve seen its Islamic influence in the Mezquita, but its Roman roots are undeniably present as well – particularly in the Old City. Here you’ll find the picturesque Roman Bridge, along with the Roman temple, Colonial Forum, and more. Explore the area on foot or bike!
5. La Sinagoga
I can’t talk about Córdoba without mentioning its Jewish tradition. After the Mezquita, the Synagogue seems very small, yet peaceful and meaningful still – especially as it’s one of Spain’s three preserved synagogues. Its stuccoed walls feature Hebrew verses mixed with floral and geometric patterns. If you’re lucky, you might meet the attendant who takes great photos!